Having been born and raised in India, the notion of a gap year has always been fairly restricted to a specific segment of students – those who are unable to perform up to their expectations in the cutthroat entrance tests to the most prestigious universities in the country. If one wasn’t spending their gap year preparing for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) or the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), the idea of taking time off before college would be frowned upon by students and parents alike.
I, too, had bought into this prevailing herd mentality of going straight to college after high school; if you’re taking a year off and not studying for a test, you’re simply wasting your time – time that could be well spent earning an undergraduate degree. That is, until I came across the Duke Gap Year Program. It piqued my interest largely because it was an opportunity unlike that offered by any of the other colleges into which I was admitted. What started out as a mere curiosity to explore what the program entailed, transformed into a paradigm shift in the manner in which I view a gap year.
I came across an article by admissions officers at Harvard, which talked about how the increasingly competitive application process often leads to students ‘burning out’ before they begin college, and how taking time off can allow students to recharge and begin afresh their 4-year undergraduate journey. It was surprising how much I was able to relate to the content put forward by the authors, so much so that I showed it to my friends who also applied to colleges in the US, eliciting similar reactions. Soon enough, I was surfing the net for hours, scouring for opportunities to make my gap year an enriching experience, getting everything in order to pitch a concrete plan to my parents (who, unlike me, had not yet been disillusioned with the stigma around a gap year).
What drew me most to the idea of a gap year is that it allows me to freely explore my interests, both academic and non-academic. Having studied in a curriculum that structurally lacked an interdisciplinary component, I never had the chance to delve further into my interest in astrophysics and political science in school. The freedom afforded by the gap year will be crucial in helping me understand my interests and aspirations in a more comprehensive manner and providing me with a clearer picture about my future, which will consequently result in a more fruitful and enriching college experience. Having had the last 2 years of high school crammed with standardized tests, extra–curricular activities, and the college application process, it would be a wonderful opportunity to have time to recharge and enter college as a much more enthusiastic freshman.
Although I’ve had limited experience with the gap year so far, the ability to plan an entire year of my life without having to worry about any school commitments has been truly enjoyable, and I hope that over the next few months I am able to expose myself to a range of new ideas and concepts.