Why Overachievers Should Consider A Gap Year
“Overachiever” tends to be a not-always-nice word used to describe people who like being busy in most aspects of their lives. Not going to lie, college has been one gigantic opportunity for me to explore everything that I’ve ever been interested in.
Because I took college classes in high school, I’m graduating in three years instead of four. My two summers have been spent away from home on the west coast and east coast of the United States. Last semester I studied abroad in Scotland and decided to stay in Europe over the holidays to truly experience Christmas and New Years from a different perspective. My academics have been of high importance to me, and my transcript reflects that. DISCLAIMER: This is not to pat myself on the back, but to reach out to other students who purposefully have done the same.
You’ve done more than just meet expectations, pushing way above what’s expected of your peers. Everything you worked so hard for is supposed to lead to graduate school or a career immediately after college.
Yeah, that’s the climax I thought I was headed for too. But for some reason, in the autumn before I graduated, all I felt was exhausted and overwhelmed. I knew I was supposed to be looking at graduate school programs, so I dutifully spent weekend afternoons browsing the internet for something, ANYTHING, that looked interesting and (sadly) worth whatever energy I had left.
And I didn’t really find anything. I saw a program or two that I knew I would enjoy and fulfilled my requirements for studying, but I wasn’t ready to do all the work that it would take once I got accepted. Try for scholarships, apply for a visa, set up living arrangements. Because I was that uninterested, I started contacting my professors at my home university to figure out where to go next. Maybe I was looking the wrong places or needed a little more motivation for my future. But this seemed unlikely as I had spent so much of my time building my experience and academics to be set up for the future.
If any of this sounds relatable or familiar, don’t worry. Apparently, this happens more often that we think it does.
Highly motivated and busy students find themselves burnt out in four or less years from college academics and cannot imagine what’s post-graduation. There must be some other option than (pay out the wazoo for) graduate school or (aim high but settle in) starting a career in your chosen field. Enter the gap year.
Not one, but three of my professors that I consider to be academic mentors simultaneously encouraged me to take a gap year after graduation. I was incredibly hesitant to even consider such an option after three full years of classes and jobs and fun college opportunities. Would it stunt my career options? Would I still be interesting to possible graduate school programs? What if I went home and never left?
One of my professors sat down with me and told me that I, more than most people, needed the gap year to truly find out if I wanted to go to grad school. She told me how her gap year between her master’s and PhD., which started out with a corporate job, helped her realize how much she craved learning.
Here’s why you should take a gap year, despite your normally busy schedule and high standards for yourself in college:
- It allows you to focus on who you are as a person outside of academia and employment.
- It helps you to appreciate your community and invest your time into it.
- You can take the time to research what you’re interested in and find opportunities that you might not have found otherwise.
- It allows you to save money before making a big life decision.
Ultimately, I decided to let myself take a gap year instead of rushing into whatever popped up first. I realized that I needed more time to find the grad school programs I truly wanted to apply for, or even decide if I wanted to go back to school at all. My hometown is in a beautiful valley, and I haven’t spent more than four weeks at a time there in over three years. Why not take advantage of saving money while also volunteering in a town that I love?
My favorite piece of advice that one of my professors gave me was this: “When you take your gap year, you have all the time in the world to figure out what you want to do and what you’re good at. If you walk past a coffee shop and envy the college students reading and studying away, you’ve found your answer. If you want to invest more in your career and find a professional lifestyle that suites you, you’ve found your answer.”
The gap year is not supposed to be extremely structured or spent filled to the brim with more resume-filling opportunities. It’s your chance to take a step back and decide what your future is.