Burn Rate

Take A Gap Year

Gap years and gap semesters are on everybody’s mind. Plenty of people online are declaring that they are going to take a gap year instead of suffer through online classes. We’ll see how many follow through.

I suspect the number of people who follow through will be less than expected. I have firsthand experience in gap years. I took one between high school and college and I’m about to embark on a gap semester for next fall. I’ve noticed that when I talk to people about gap years, they have quite a few hesitations. Even when they claim to be interested in a gap year, they seem to talk themselves out of it. Their response inevitably becomes “great for thee, not for me”.

Why is that?

I’m not entirely sure, but I have compiled various arguments, some paraphrased, and I’ll give my responses.

But but…I’ll be behind my friends

This matters a lot less than you’d think. In high school a few years can make all the difference; 14 year olds are very different than 18 year olds. But in college it’s not a huge deal at all. You’ll probably befriend seniors when you’re a freshman and vice versa. A few years difference isn’t a huge deal when you’re all almost adults.

As for your friends, nobody will care if you graduate a year later except people who have nothing better to care about. Plenty of them will stay in school to do masters programs or even PhDs. Even if your friends ditch you, which is pretty weird of them, you can always make new friends1.

I don’t know what I’d do

That’s fine! You can figure that out as you go along. Sure, some people do those overly prepared gap years where they go on humanitarian trips to Burundi or something but those people are lame2. But a lot of people just wing it. I did a lot during my gap year but I also spend a decent amount of time hanging out enjoying my free time. That’s probably where I learned the most about being self motivated and working on my own projects.

Not to mention, a gap year is basically how life works after college. Granted you need to pay the bills but hey, you might need to do that during the gap year. Plenty of 18 year olds figure out what to do without college.

Some people claim they’d do nothing but play video games. I seriously doubt that. Even if you did, maybe something good will come out of that? You could end up making a streaming channel or start an esports career. Also…if that’s a problem, maybe you should confront said problem. It might be good to combat it before you head off to the open ended, video game heavy place that is college.

I can’t waste time, I need to go make money ASAP

That’s fair. Some of us really do need to get an education and start making money stat. However we are lucky to be in a field where you can get a decently paying internship even out of high school. It takes some existing programming knowledge and maybe a lucky contact or two, but it is possible. If you’re in college, it’s even easier. Plenty of companies run fall internships. I know more than a few people who have taken time off to intern. Even if you have no job experience, some smaller companies will definitely hire you.

It’s also not a good idea to rush through your degree. Many people don’t end up sticking to their original major. They realize halfway through that no, they don’t like chemistry. If this realization comes too late, they may be forced to take another year to graduate. Or worse, they end up graduating with a major that they don’t actually like. A gap year can allow you to explore the field and verify that you actually like it, saving you money in the end. Measure twice cut once, as the saying goes.

That’s too much free time. I just have to stay busy.

Yeah yeah that’s some nonsense that high school drills into you so that you can work insane amounts. If you feel guilty for not working, you might seriously need a gap year. Life will give you as much work as you want. If you’ve been programmed to need work, then you’re on a path to burnout. I went to a particularly intense high school and I’ve seen my classmates burn themselves out because of this nonsensical notion. A lot of them push themselves to extremes without even a specific goal in mind.

You should enter college with a set of goals. What do you want to accomplish in college? Otherwise you’re spending 70k a year to figure out what to do during said 70k-year. Better to figure that out before during your 0k gap year.

This notion goes against the aspirational view that college graduates from previous generations hold—namely that college is place for you to discover yourself and your passions. That’s great and all, but that view made a lot more sense when college didn’t cost 70k a year. If you still hold on to this view, by all means, go spend your money. But understand that it’s a rather privileged sentiment3.

Plus if you need to stay busy, you will stay busy! A gap year doesn’t have to be backpacking across Europe. Plenty of people work or do side projects or learn new topics during their gap year. What people generally mean is that they’re worried without the structure of school, they won’t stay busy. What I want to know is why they need to be busy if they naturally would not be busy.

Gap years will look bad on my resume

They have never been an issue whatsoever for me. In fact my gap years were a net benefit because I was able to work during them. Even if your gap year is purely pleasure, it won’t have a negative effect. Plenty of young people around the world take time off to travel. If someone asks you what you did during a gap in your resume and you explain that you traveled/partied/relaxed, they will probably respond with “cool! That sounds awesome”. If they don’t, well they’re no fun. And who wants to work with people who aren’t fun?

Plenty of countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Israel, Singapore, etc. have a culture of taking a year to travel. Kids from those countries go on to have perfectly normal careers.

My parents won’t let me

Another kinda reasonable one. If you value your relationship with your parents and they truly do not believe in gap years, it might not be worth it. Just remember this is your life. If you’re not ready or interested in college, your parents aren’t going to change that. This might be a time to push back. Your relationship with your parents does not have to be a continuous function.

Feel free to use any of the above arguments with your parents.

  1. I hesitate to make this a point here but it’s not uncommon for you to grow apart from your high school friends. That’s life. 

  2. I kid. It’s a totally fine, albeit pricey way of spending your time. 

  3. This may seem contradictory because gap years are often considered privileged activities. I’d argue that they’re actually very economically sound decisions as long as you’re not in urgent need to make cash ASAP 

This project is maintained by torchNYU