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IN PRAISE OF THE GAP YEAR

June 5, 2017

 

Graduation day is here and the vast majority of high school seniors carry the expectation that they'll enroll in a college or university in the fall. Don’t do it!

 

More and more now, well-meaning but misguided parents are deeply involved in planning academic careers. Their oversight is so comprehensive that students don't even wash their own socks or peel bananas anymore. Adults often structure an entire life around a child’s school and prep classes and extracurriculars, all the things that will make her stand out for the admissions officer at Yale. People believe this is normal. But is it?

 

The pressure to get into a good school is insane. College counseling starts early and on top of a the staff counselor, parents opt to hire private college counselors who coach applicants. Counselors are great but the college counselors are there to help YOU identify what YOU will need to succeed, NOT what a parent believes you need. Because college is hyper-competitive, qualifying becomes something like an 80-hour-per-week job. Parents push students into programs that can make a person one-dimensional.

 

High achievement and academic exceptionalism robs kids of a little old thing called we used to call Life.

 

Many of today’s top students have no life. And that means no life skills. Their parents have equated academic success with life success and it's just not true. Case in point:

 

A top exec at a tech company in Seattle tells me that she is arguing against pay raises and bonuses for many of the new hires this year. Young people who graduated from Cornell and Carnegie Mallon and Stanford are plainly failing at their jobs. Why, she asks the other execs in the room, should someone get a raise for that?

 

The reason they fail, she said, is because they are too distracted to complete their work. Distracted by Life. Their stable and predictable world of rubrics and curricula is gone and in the absence of structure they don't know how to think independently. She says they admit they have no idea how to shop for groceries or do their laundry or follow a recipe or file their taxes. Their anxiety is through the roof because there’s no PDF textbook telling them how to complete these tasks. And the people who used to provide these services while they were in school are all gone. Through no fault of their own, young people lack basic life skills and the imposition is affecting their careers. Hence, no raise and no bonus. 

 

A college counselor I talked to recently said many students benefit from a gap year, a full year off from academics where a person develops life skills and focuses on personal growth. In fact, the Princeton Review says the gap year is gaining in popularity and acceptance in the US. I don't believe many students will benefit from a year off. No, I think MOST students will benefit from a gap year. The college counselor warns the gap year is not a year sitting on a couch Snapchatting and playing Candy Crush. It means travel or volunteering or employment or some combination of the three. The gap year is a time for an individual to assess her goals and priorities and work toward future success in a life beyond the classroom.

 

Tuition and housing at a four year school costs tens of thousands of dollars. Today, the national average for student loan debt is approaching $40k. If a student is going to be on the hook for that much money shouldn’t she be damn sure that school and that major are truly what she wants? The gap year will help decide that.

 

I moved 1,000 miles away after I graduated high school, up to college from an unhappy home environment. But I was running away from a circumstance not running toward any specific educational goal. My years at college were enlightening but wholly unproductive when it comes to what a college is for: to prepare you for your future career. I bounced around without focus and when it was over I was unprepared to be successful in any of the professional ranks. My first job out of college? Janitor. To augment that income I also drove a delivery truck. Had I taken the time to focus and grow and learn about myself I am sure my career outcome would’ve been far different. I had the life skills but none of the focus and it takes both to make it in the world.

 

If you’re being groomed to go to a big college but you cannot even separate your whites from colors or make grilled cheese

DON’T GO! If you want to go to school simply because it’s 1,000 miles away from the people you’re running away from DON’T DO IT! When you think about picking a major and vacillate between art, engineering, chemistry, film and anthropology. STOP THINKING ABOUT IT!

 

No need to panic. It’s time for you to give the brain a rest, get some perspective, gain some life skills and take a gap year.

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