In the eyes of many, the image of a proper education looks the same: 12 years of grade school, four years of college immediately after and graduate school as soon as undergrad is done. All the years of education in a row may sound exhausting, and it is. Burning out is increasingly more common as the pressure piles up on students both financially and academically.
However, this typical system does not work for everyone. Not all students are the same, and many are wary of taking the path less traveled and risking failure or ridicule from friends over taking the mainstream route. But the truth is that there is no shame in those small, winding roads to success.
Many of the alternative options besides the typical education process are written off as taboo, one of these being the act of taking a gap year between high school and college. Being raised and taught in the Bellevue School District, no one ever mentioned gap years to me. I assumed that there was some sort of critical disadvantage – a red flag to colleges, a sign of laziness or failure. After talking to my high school counselor, I realized that it raises no red flags to colleges or universities. After learning that, I fail to understand why people don’t take gap years more often. In choosing to do so myself, I was able to focus on my grades and taking care of myself instead of scrambling to get the best SAT score and sell my image to dozens of institutions around the country.
I could do anything in a gap year. Travel, volunteer, work or pick up an internship. The options are endless. The most valuable part is the fact that I can take a moment of life to breathe. In the years right after high school, most people have very few obligations tying them down to one place, and it can be the most freeing and wonderful time in life. Three months of freedom during summer was never enough for me – I wanted a full year, and so I chose to go against the grain and do what I knew was right for me.
Education does not look the same for everyone, and circumstances are all unique. There is no shame in taking the path that is right for one individual, even if those who choose the typical option pass judgement. Taking the less-worn path is not a sign of incompetence, but of bravery and independence, so any remarks saying that I’ve made a horrible mistake go right in one ear and out the other.
The biggest criticism I get about my decision to take a gap year is that I will “miss out on the college experience.” When I first hear this, I do feel some anxiety. What if I don’t fit in because I don’t share the experience of coming in as a freshman? It makes me wonder if I should have chosen to go to a local university with a high acceptance rate and to stay in my comfort zone. When I take the time to do some soul-searching, I realized the times where I am most content in my day is when I am not following the crowd. I enjoy independence, freedom and flexibility – that’s why doing Running Start was one of the best decisions I have made. Choosing to turn around and compromise my goals by following the crowd makes no sense after deciding to break away and take control of my own life.
Even though I may be a little scared, I’m excited for what my college life will bring. It’s not as concrete as others’ may be, and I don’t know where I will end up in a year or two, but when I stop to think about it, I know that’s exactly how I like it.