Opinion: The benefits of taking a gap year

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Since kindergarten, the idea that going to college is the only path to success has been drilled into our heads. Go to school, get a degree, make money doing what you love. This concept is great and the thought of spending the rest of your life getting paid to do something you love is tempting. Unfortunately, as many college graduates will tell you, it isn’t likely.

A vast majority of college students spend their first few years at school somewhat lost. Many are either undecided in their major, or are looking for more options. Because of this, 30 percent of college students drop out of school after their freshman year.

The pressure on students at any given university is staggering, but the pressure to go straight from high school to college is even higher. If there was some breathing room between high school to college, students would be relieved of some of this pressure, and perhaps be able to make better decisions about their education. In other words, taking time away from school could actually help students with their academic careers.

As a young, starry-eyed high school graduate, I had no idea of what I wanted to do in life. I actually enjoyed high school and was sad to leave my childhood behind. I planned on going to CSU (ugh, I know) to study Archaeology, for God knows what reason. I remember sitting in my room looking at my posters, books and keepsakes; it would all have to go at the end of the summer. I realized I wasn’t ready to leave my whole life behind, not even close. I knew it was taboo, but I decided to take a gap year.

The backlash I received for this decision was impressive. Family and friends pleaded with me to go to school. They told me I would “lose momentum” and never return.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. During that year, I traveled. I worked a 9-5 job and I paid my bills. I made new friends and I learned more about being an adult than that first year of college could have ever taught me. I even discovered that I wanted to be a journalist. That year convinced me that college was a privilege that I didn’t want to miss out on. I made the right decision this time and applied to CU, was accepted and was even told that my “gap year” was impressive. Every day I got up for the dreaded 9 a.m. my first year back, I thanked my lucky stars (and I still do) that I was going to school.

My gap year was what prepared me for college. Many people I tell about my experience wish they had done the same. Taking a gap year– or taking any amount of time off– is scary. Doing so goes against our social norms. It’s tough to see the pitying look on someone’s face when they learn you are “just working,” or “taking some time” away from school. But the whole point of a gap year is to do what’s best for you. Who cares what others think? The time spent away from school is for you and you alone.

After surviving time away from school, you may discover that school is actually fun. It’s hard to grasp, but I promise it’s true. Once you get back into the academic swing, things will seem easy. The point of taking time off school is that it gives you motivation. It makes you realize your priorities in life.

Giving yourself time to figure out who you are is in your best interest. You will thank yourself later.

Contact CU Independent Opinion Columnist Maris Westrum at maris.westrum@colorado.edu.

Maris Westrum

Maris Westrum is an undergraduate student who writes about culture and women’s issues. She is studying journalism and anthropology.

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