Why I Deferred Johns Hopkins to Take a Gap Year

“Why? You’d only be wasting your time.”

That was my parent’s immediate response when I first suggested the idea of a gap year. As a bitter teen, I grumbled something passive aggressive in reply but didn’t push the idea.

However, the idea stuck, and from it, the same response arose: why not?

I sent my deferral forms to Johns Hopkins in January, researched for the year ahead, and found myself in Istanbul as a part of The GO Project, a collective of 9 people integrating themselves into economic hubs around the world. I reflect upon the reasons I decided to take a gap year here, in hopes of provoking deeper thought about the benefits of taking a year for yourself.

First, I wanted more direction. I didn’t have a definitive passion or purpose that I was comfortable with, and most students out of high school don’t, either. So why not take a year to explore? There’s no reason to rush into four years of expensive tuition reused textbooks for the sake of fulfilling requirements towards a major that you-like-but-not-really, and to become stuck on one path in fear of wasting time and money. I wasn’t satisfied with where I was headed, which would surely be a path of wasted resources, and decided that a year of exploration would do me more good than harm.

Higher education is meant to be a means for students to springboard themselves into their respective futures, unconventional or not, and too often do people treat their college years as a checkpoint that will define the rest of their lives. Sure, it’s a peak of institutionalized education, but it’s hardly the only time in which intensive learning takes place. It would be much more efficient to approach higher education with the mindset of what it’s supposed to be: a system that provides people the tools to make themselves and the world better. Taking the time to explore the topics you enjoy, the skills you want to build, and consequently, the role you want to play in this world is difficult, but when you have a whole year, it mostly boils down to how far you’re willing to push yourself.

Personal development was also a huge motivator in deciding to take a gap year. I didn’t want to enter college with the way I was: unsure, timid, and wholly indecisive. What choices would I have made with those set of characteristics? Maybe I would have shied away from joining a club or approaching a professor for lunch. It’s harder to utilize resources effectively when you can’t easily find the strength to do so. It’s also important to note that character development shouldn’t be an end goal, but a product of being active. Go out and do things that are important to you — confidence, self assurance, or any strengths beneficial to your wellbeing will increase as a result of that.

The idea of gap years are characterized by rich kids taking time off in another country to find themselves, but this is a poor overgeneralization of what the year could be. A gap year, ultimately, is for personal change and achievement. Self development happens with change in circumstance and is expedited mainly by deliberate effort, not money. Of course, everyone has different accessibility to resources, but most students share something in common: youth. There are hoards of opportunities targeted towards young adults to work, learn, or go abroad that are either free or heavily discounted.

Along with having less financial and social responsibility than college graduates, I also have more freedom to explore and make mistakes. The sitting duck period after high school is a golden opportunity. There’s no sense of urgency to get a career or toil over student debt, so what can I do in that time where I’m unburdened by these “adult” concerns? If my time isn’t filled with assignments and deadlines, then I’m going to wholeheartedly explore what I enjoy.

A gap year isn’t a cure all, but if your circumstances are kind, what’s stopping you? A lot can happen in a year, and school isn’t going anywhere. You’ll be faced with the hardships that come with creating your own curriculum, but great challenge has always provoked great change — embrace it.

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