Gap year? What’s that?

Over the past three months I’ve probably been asked about a hundred times what I’m up to next year, and although I dread this repeated question as much as the next high school grad, I also delight in the fact that I can give a response most people don’t expect.

“I’m going to Spain!” is usually my initial response, followed by an in depth explanation of why on earth I decided to put off college. A gap year, as some call it, has become more popular in recent years although still rare here in the states. Most people go straight to college from high school.

Students are usually told this is the best way and schools offer little guidance to those who may want to take an alternative route, which made my decision making process all the more difficult. I was surprised at the lack of information and resources offered to students like me, because I had a lot of questions that were difficult to get answers to.

Luckily I was able to get advice and guidance from family and friends, and in the mean time I went through the whole college application process just in case. If I did decide to take a gap year, I wanted to ensure that I had a spot reserved for me at a University when I came back from Spain so I wouldn’t have to apply later. This is what ended up happening. I accepted an offer of admission to Northwestern University and requested that my enrollment beĀ deferredĀ for a year and consequently I will be attending in Fall of 2010.

When making my decision a lot of things were uncertain and I knew it would be a risk. (I have never visited the University in Spain I will be attending, I have no idea how European higher education compares to American college, and not to mention all the cultural differences.) However, I decided to go for it and am now confident that I made the right choice.

When I tell people I am going to be attending school in Spain for a year, studying Spanish language and culture, they are usually very supportive. A lot of college graduates that I talked to confess that they feel they weren’t ready for college straight out of high school and wish they had done something like a gap year. Others attest to the fact that living abroad is an incredible, life changing experience and there is no better time to do it. I identify more with the latter, because its not that I don’t feel ready for college I just feel this is an incredible opportunity that is worth taking.


  • Skyline Teacher

    It’ll be great, I’m very happy for you Isabel.

  • Debora

    Isabel: You were smart to accept and defer your Northwestern acceptance. I also believe you made the right decision in your Spain experience. The ability to be unsure of how something works (European education) and have ambivalence, yet still remain committed to the journey will serve you well.

    You are quite inspiring and I would love to hear from you during the year about your experiences.

  • Nextset

    Have a good time and keep us posted on what you see during the Gap Year.

    The concept of taking a Gap Year from Academic and vocational training in the US is a non-starter for most kids here. Many families are in survival mode and must work survive. When you lose student status you also lose health care coverage for the most part. If the parents are wealthy enough to foot the bill for the lifestyle, fine. But for many staying in school is the best way to finance their lifestyle. And just as important is the need to stay in school to keep the society and identity that the students wants and needs.

    And there is also the danger that educational paths for many once interrupted are harder to resume.

    I would have loved to do a Gap Year in Europe or some other garden spot. However I think doing so would have threatened my chances to become an attorney. The opportunity to go forward was there at the time. I couldn’t have counted on that opportunity to be so available later. For one thing, parents would have been closer to retirement later, other siblings would have been in greater need later. Nobody went to Europe until a younger cousin went off on a college exchange program and remained permanently.

    To each his own. I’m quite sure you are doing the right thing. Opportunites like this are uncommon. Most of the Gap year kids I see stayed in their bedrooms smoking pot, playing video games and being in a band. And the parents let them.