Why College Can Wait

Gap year (also known as bridge year) is a year between finishing high school and going to college, when students explore the world, do volunteering, pursue their own projects or simply take their time to make up their mind about the next chapter of their life. After her graduation in May, Hannah, UWCD'16 took a gap year with the Global Citizen Year in Ecuador. Almost a year later she is sharing her insights on why it was a right choice for her.

See the original article on EdSurge Independent.

Last fall college loomed large in my life.

In my senior year of high school, I built my routine around a list of things I needed to do in order to get into colleges. My average day would include such tasks as writing personal essays, “In 250 words or less, how do you imagine yourself living and learning at Bard/Skidmore/Wheaton?”, talking to a college counselor, learning SAT vocabulary, changing my mind about my future major for the tenth time, and going on campus tours online. These were my top priorities, coming over and above anything else. Rather than speaking my own truth, I preferred to google college essay prompts to make sure that my answer met the expectations of a college I was applying to. I would intentionally adjust what I said during interviews to sound like a better fit, and carefully craft a pretentious list of activities for my Common App. I was losing myself, trying to meet a stranger’s expectations, and this didn’t feel like something to be proud of. A high-pressured race to get into college I became a part of, together with a heavy academic workload, made my senior year experience very intense.

Somewhere in between juggling all those activities, I paused for a moment. Why was I doing this? Why was I planning on going to college, on spending all that time, money and energy on something I wasn’t sure I wanted? While my friends were applying to colleges, I didn’t feel as though it was the right time take that step for me. Deep down I was hesitant about committing myself to yet another 4 years of structured learning right after the 13 years of schooling

I learned to embrace discomfort and to survive off of much less.

I had just completed. I needed time to grow and learn and take care of myself. I needed the opportunity to learn from my own experience.

I wanted to break a conventional path many students are expected to follow. I started to browse different gap year programs and talk to my friends who I knew took a year off before college. They were telling me how they worked on farms, taught English in school, or biked across South America. Those conversations made me set on my decision to take a bridge year. My gut feeling was telling me that only by putting myself out there in a world, trying things out and making mistakes would I find out what really truly matters to me.

As Alain de Botton puts it in his book The Art of Travel, “Journeys are the midwives of thought. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places.” I came to realize that there is a myriad of things, apart from college experience, that shape us into who we are. We are built from the books we read, the circumstances we overcome, the people we love, our moments of hesitation, and the roads we travel.

Four months before my graduation, and ten submitted college applications after, I applied for a bridge year program Global Citizen Year, and in a month received an acceptance letter — I was going to spend eight month in Ecuador! Soon I found out I was admitted to college, and I immediately requested a deferral.

Now, I am seven months into my bridge year. In hindsight, I can tell that taking a bridge year was the best decision I could make. The most joyous moments of my life are linked to the people I met and places I visited here in Ecuador. I grew so much by pushing past what I thought were my personal limits — like speaking Spanish, teaching English at school, helping with all sort of things at pre-school, and living with a loving host family. I gave up my secure habits, learned to embrace discomfort and to survive off of much less. And I had a lot of fun exploring the Amazon rainforest and learning woodcraft at my host family’s woodshop!

However enriching freshman experience I might have had this year, I’m so incredibly grateful that I first took a bridge year before I settle down on college campus. I know that this fall I will be taking college by storm, driven by the questions and passions I discovered during my bridge year.