Before even thinking about college, every young person should consider a gap year. I’m glad I did.
In 2015, I was the stereotypical college-bound high school grad. Under my belt, I had the rigorous course load, the top grades, multiple extracurriculars, volunteer commitments, and leadership positions. Yet, I knew college just wasn’t right for me. It may never be.
I still applied to several, and I was accepted into most. I received scholarships, one of them covering over half the tuition of a small, private college.
But something did not feel right. There were several events leading up to my senior year that had changed my perspective: a house fire, a severe car accident, a major surgery. I felt burned out and weary at just the thought of four more years of intensive academia. I needed a change of pace and environment.
Furthermore, I did not have a concrete idea of what vocation I wanted to pursue. I was interested in marketing. But I didn’t have any experience practicing the craft that I wanted to learn the theory of in college. Four years and thousands of dollars later, I would hypothetically have the key to a career in marketing. You and I both know reality is not sustained on hypotheticals.
Too many young people are unsure what they want to pursue as a career, but feel college is their only way to find out. This myth is costing millions of students far too much money and time for a degree that is usually little more than a signal to employers that the individual completed 4+ years of academia in a given subject. It does not necessarily equip you for the job, or professional life in general.
So what’s the solution?
Take advantage of the under-appreciated resource that young people have in abundance: your time. Dedicate it to pursuing something — vocational goals, training, personal projects, travel dreams, anything that will cause you to expand and evolve in a productive manner. Find something that will challenge you to create a tangible product or develop an ability that you would not have otherwise. Technical and experiential knowledge is important, both for personal development and employability. And usually, it’s gained outside the classroom.
For me, that was six months of backpacking, and now Praxis.
I have wanted to travel for as long as I can remember. And taking a gap year felt like the first opportunity to travel by myself, to plan and execute a trip solely for myself. It was an adventure – in the truest sense of the word. It was exciting and intimidating. I was forced to advocate for myself, think on my feet, and create solutions for a variety of situations. For example: train strikes in France, a hostel in Berlin refusing to give me a refund after messing up my reservation, and much more.
There were also so many joyful moments I would never have otherwise, like meeting incredible people from all over the world, seeing places and monuments I’d read about all my life, being in historical places that had held the paths of past monarchs, politicians and revolutionaries, playwrights and poets, individuals who shaped our world’s history.
By the time I returned home, I knew that college wasn’t the right option. I learn best by doing, by troubleshooting practical, rather than just theoretical, solutions. I will have this opportunity, as a Praxis apprentice, by working with my business partner and creating tangible experiences and skills.
Ask yourself the following questions before you automatically assume that college is the answer:
What do I want to accomplish in the next year?
What do I want to pursue as a vocation?
What do I value?
If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, please consider your next step. Don’t blindly assume that college will offer the answers. You need to find them for yourself. You may find it preferable to avoid debt and find direction first, rather than aimlessly wasting your time and money in a search of meaning through accreditation.
Do you want to travel? Do you feel like you can’t until you have a “real” job, and a college degree. Why? Do you really believe that, or have you just been told that by others?
I know from my own experience that you can in fact graduate from high school, take a gap year, get a entry-level job and save enough to backpack for several months through Europe. I did it, and I’d be happy to talk if you’re interested in something similar.
Do not be so quick to underestimate your own abilities.
You shouldn’t rush into anything, especially college. Do not underestimate the value of your own time, or the value of opportunities other than university.
I will be blogging every day of December 2016. If you have any questions or want to discuss further gap years, travel, or something else, please reach out! I’d love to connect.