Some encouraging thoughts and advice for potential gappers:
If you are even thinking about taking a gap year, just go for it. It is a good choice for innumerable reasons.
For one, you will never be as unencumbered as you are fresh out of high school. No real job, still living at home, not many expenses/debts, no pets, etc. You may never find yourself in that position again. Take advantage of it. After meeting so many other travelers this year I’ve realized how lucky I am to be in this position. Whether you are traveling, volunteering, working or all of the above, you can cherish not being attached and freely exploring how the world works outside of a classroom. As one friend puts it nicely, real experience allows us to “align our perspectives with reality.”
Right now, I am backpacking in New Zealand but I just left Bali, Indonesia. I lived in Bali for two months and volunteered teaching kindergarten. The kids were hilarious and taught me so much about myself. Two months ago I would have said the whole experience was way out of my comfort zone, but as soon as I was immersed in Bali, I was game for anything. I think the trick was preparing myself for the foreignness of my new surroundings and opportunities in Indonesia and then wholeheartedly accepting them as they came along. I’ve been able to stave off the culture shock that some people feel and avoided homesickness. I’ve learned the power of being open minded.
Going half way around the world has allowed me to release the minute stresses and nominal worries that plague me day to day at home and has let me freely explore both myself and my new surroundings. I find it hard to imagine defining my own identity while also being at school and choosing a career. While some might be good at multitasking, I find value in giving both myself and my future equal thought and equal brain space. A gap year sets me up for that. The hope and the expectation is that I’ll know myself enough by the end of this year to make the right choices about my future.
As far as advice goes, the first piece would be apply for college and then defer your acceptance to take a year off. I’ve been accepted at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY and deferred my enrollment until September, 2017. I am undecided on my path of study, another reason why I took the year off.
Senior fall is hectic and it might be tempting to wait to apply if you know you’re gapping but don’t. I was so thankful to have the resources and help from the counselors and I’m happy I don’t have to worry about applying while traveling. Most colleges are really encouraging of gap year students and will gladly defer your acceptance.
Also, be considerate of your parents if you decide to trot the globe. If they are supportive of your gap year that’s already a huge gift, and you leaving or differing from the normal path is most likely scarier for them than it is for you.