Of course I was disappointed that I couldn’t travel abroad. That’s what nearly everyone does on a gap year: an intense cultural-immersion-type thing. I had plans to travel in the summer after my senior year to my mother’s home village in Bali, Indonesia, to promote the use of bio-char stoves, but unfortunately, vaccine complications and a rise in dengue fever on the island kept me from carrying out this plan (Hey, I didn’t want to die before I got to college!).
Luckily, this bump in the road helped me realize that I really didn’t have enough money to spend on traveling. Next year I would start attending the one of the most expensive universities in the United States, and even with my financial aid award, college debt seemed inevitable. I had never worked a job in high school – my parents told me that school was my job, and A’s were my currency – so I decided to finally get my first job and save up for college. I ended up working four jobs… simultaneously.
Work wasn’t what originally inspired me to take a gap year. I give that honor to my best friend. The more I heard about her plans as a wildlife biologist intern in Africa, the more I thought about taking a gap year myself. I was so incredibly burned out from the rigor of high school, and I believed that I could mature immensely without the pressures of academics bearing down on me for an entire year. Besides, I felt that I still had some loose ends at home to take care of before jetting off to college so soon, and taking a gap year might be the right thing for me to do. It was exciting, the idea of an entire year open to a world of possibilities. I could do anything I wanted to do, including all those activities that I didn’t have time to do in high school. So I did everything–yes, I was insane–loading myself with two part-time jobs as a private nanny and a waitress at Park Avenue Catering, starting my own academic coaching business called Study Monsters, landing an internship with the non-profit Summer Search, assistant coaching my old high school’s badminton team, mentoring my high school Key Club as a Kiwanis International member, taking three junior college classes, getting first-aid certified by the Red Cross, and somehow finding time for hot yoga class.
I learned so much about myself in a mere year that I can’t imagine I did it all in so short a time. Nannying taught me that job opportunities are all about knowing the right people who are willing to recommend you because you made a strong impression on them; this lesson helped me become teacher’s assistant for a calculus course this semester as a freshman. Tutoring those kids and taking junior college calculus classes encouraged me to start Study Monsters to coach students in mathematics and PSAT/SAT test prep. When I took to the work so well, I decided to change my major from English to Mathematics. My work with Park Avenue and Study Monsters convinced me that I am worth more than $15 per hour. My work with Summer Search showed me how much I loved working with students in the college admissions process; this realization led me here, to The Prospect, where I can live out my childhood dream of being a writer without committing to an English major. And juggling all four of these jobs helped me discover my limits, which prevented me from overloading myself in college as so many freshmen tend to do.
Taking a gap year allowed me to start college with a firmer foundation of who I am, where I’m going, and what I’m doing to get there. Without a doubt, it was one of the best decisions of my life, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an alternative path on the college route.