One year. Twelve months. 365 days. 1.27 percent of an average American lifespan. This doesn’t seem like much, does it? Yet somehow, this small amount of time seems as threatening as the view from the edge of a cliff when you leave it wide open. But perhaps that is the perfect reason to do it.
Do what, you ask? Leave a year wide open. Without responsibilities, or scheduling, or really any semblance of what your life has looked like for the past 22 years or will look like until you retire. I am talking about taking a gap year after graduating from Georgetown.
Before you protest, hear me out. I know it seems impulsive, irrational and a little bit crazy. But is that not what being young is all about? Compared to my undergraduate institution, I have noticed that Georgetown students are much more professionally focused — which is not a bad thing, and is obviously an aspect of being a young adult in Washington, D.C. There are so many interesting events occurring and endless opportunities to learn and grow, which is one of my favorite parts about my life here. However, I feel that it also throws people into “the cycle” too soon.
This cycle has another name: life. But not the daring, exciting life we see portrayed by Hollywood — the one we dreamed of when we were in elementary school — but rather the humdrum life of a 9-to-5 office job, accompanied by an occasional night out here and a rare vacation there. This type of life certainly has its place, and is, in many respects, an ideal system for many, if not most, individuals. My argument is just, not now.
There will be no other time in your life where you will have so much freedom and so few repercussions from a small escape from normalcy. You probably aren’t married, and you probably don’t have kids. If you have loans, you don’t have to start paying them back until six months after graduation. Unless you’ve already chosen it, you don’t have a job, and for the first time since you were about 12, you have literally no schoolwork to do. As they say, timing is everything, and the timing is perfect on this one.
Now I want to be clear. I am in no way suggesting you go chill on your parents’ couch for a year, binge-watching “Friends” and “House of Cards” while your dad cooks you dinner and your mom does your laundry. Absolutely not. If you’re going to do a gap year, then you’d better do it right.
Gap year options are essentially endless. They vary enormously in time span, location and activity.
You could take a year to travel — anywhere and for any length of time. This certainly has a price sticker on it, but it can be done on a summer job’s savings by looking for student deals and staying in hostels. It may not be glamorous, but the people you will meet, the experiences you have and the memories you will make are priceless. Travel is education at its best: you learn about the world and about yourself through trial and experimentation.
There is also the option of going abroad while getting a paycheck. And they are not all teaching jobs, although that’s not to say that those wouldn’t be interesting. You could also work as an au pair, which is essentially a fancy form of babysitting. There are hundreds of volunteer opportunities (both paid and unpaid) in many different areas, such as environmental protection and hospitality, which would allow for both personal growth and a new section on your resume.
Frankly, you could take a year to do just about anything — even working a random job in a random city or living at home again, as long as there is a purpose. Many of my friends went back home but used the reduced-stress environment to study for the LSAT or MCAT and to really think about their goals and the best way to get there.
All of these and more are possible ways to escape the uniformity that is sadly such a large part of the current human existence. Gap years are amazingly common in other parts of the world, with some countries having about 50% of all students take one — although it does typically come between high school and college. Even in the United States this trend is on the rise, with some colleges incentivizing a gap year because of the statistics surrounding students who take a gap year: gappers usually perform better academically than their non-gapping peers.
I wanted to take a gap year following my undergraduate education, but I got swept up in the grad school bustle and found myself here, pursuing a master’s degree. And I desperately wish I had taken that time off. Don’t get me wrong; I do enjoy my studies and see the benefit of furthering my education. But I might have done it a different way if I had allowed myself the time to really think about all of my options. I also think that a short break would have allowed me to meet my graduate studies with more mental and emotional gumption. I am now planning on taking a gap year after I graduate next year, and, honestly, it is one of my biggest motivations. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but that is why I wanted to share these thoughts with an audience who could learn from my mistake.
A gap year is not for everyone. But it is certainly for some, and I don’t think there should be stigma against it. Taking some time off allows for exploration that is usually put on the backburner due to the various responsibilities we face in everyday life. It allows you to grow, mature, pursue your own interests, and in the process learn a lot about yourself and what you want out of life. Taking a bit of time to figure yourself out now surely beats waking up in ten years and realizing that you dislike where your life has pulled you. Therefore, I urge you: if you are unsure about your next steps or are simply itching for some adventure, go out there and get it. Don’t worry about what your friends are doing or what other people might think. Last time I checked, you were the only one living your life.
Rebecca Childress is a master’s candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Gradually Getting There appears every other Friday.
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