We Asked 3 Students If Their Gap Years Were Worth It. Here’s What They Said

Photo Courtesy of Hanson Grant

There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to taking a year off from studying to do anything you want — most commonly referred to as a “gap year.”

You could take a gap year on a budget or even have someone else foot the bill for you, but when it comes down to it, just how helpful can a gap year really be?

We talked to a few students who took gap years, and here’s what they had to say.

Realizing the Opportunity of College

Hanson Grant was 18 when his dream school, Babson College, waitlisted him for a semester.

Instead of choosing to take an internship or classes back home in Saratoga Springs, New York, he jumped at the opportunity to turn the gap semester into a four-month adventure driving across the country.

With nothing but his ‘05 Subaru CrossTrek, hiking gear and bike strapped to the top of his car, Grant set out to Yosemite National Park and North Lake Tahoe.

Grant had been thinking he wanted to live the simple life post-graduation, bumming it on ski slopes. He saw his gap year as an opportunity to get a feel for what his future life could be like.

He picked up some work along the way, cleaning hotel rooms and giving ski lessons. But he soon realized he wanted more than just a simple life.

Photo Courtesy of Hanson Grant

Neither of these were glorious jobs, but they gave me so much perspective on the value of education,” Grant says. “After working in Yosemite, and seeing people that were 30 or 40 still working minimum wage, I quickly realized the opportunity I had at my fingertips.”

He’d been unsure of what he wanted to do in college — he either hoped to be a physics major or eventually start his own business.

His gap semester helped him figure it out, though.

Once I got a taste of the real world, (which was still only a bubble of the real world), I knew I was born to be an entrepreneur,” he says.

At the end of his four-month gap period, Grant headed to school with a newfound motivation that was unstoppable.

“Once I entered school, I crushed it. Far beyond where I thought I would go,” Grant explains. “I was there to learn and there to apply my knowledge inside the classroom to my real life.”

The best part, for him, was being in class and having enthusiasm to learn instead of focusing solely on his GPA and stressing out about it.

And, it worked — he finished his first semester with a 3.4 GPA, eventually graduating with a an entrepreneurship degree.

Where is he now? He’s running his own start-up, Think Board, which makes a dry-erase film that turns any wall into a whiteboard.

He doesn’t regret his gap semester one bit.

Using Time Off to Mentally Stay on Track

Mariana Laxague, 22, is no stranger to taking time off from school — she’s currently on her third break.

She took her first one, a semester long, after realizing her current academic situation wasn’t healthy.

“I kept jumping from major to major trying to find something, and it was not good at all,” she recalls. “The first gap period I took definitely changed things and made me realize what I want to do in life.”

The first round of time off brought her new perspectives. When you’re young you don’t always know what you want, she explains. So she took the time off to step back and really think about what she wanted to do with her life.

She started school as a biology major — and finally settled on being a law major. She enjoys law so much that she now works full-time as a paralegal in downtown Tampa, Florida. Talk about complete opposites!

She also took time off to manage stress after feeling “burned out,” and for financial reasons — Laxague held a full-time job throughout her entire college career.

“If I didn’t take the couple of semesters off I’m sure I would be way more stressed out,” Laxague says. “And, maybe, I wouldn’t have figured out what I wanted.”

While she has managed to work her way up at her place of employment, she’s still set on finishing her degree, something she deems essential to anyone’s career.

“I do occasionally get frustrated that I haven’t graduated yet, especially when graduation time rolls around and I see people I went to high school graduating,” she said. “But I just have to remind myself that everyone’s timeline is different.”

Stepping Back to Learn Who You Are Outside the Classroom

Aissatou Barrie-Rose is a 22 year old senior at Columbia University in New York. Growing up, she was a stellar “high-achieving” student — an identity that came to define her.

After graduating high school, she became curious about who she was outside the classroom.

I wanted the challenge of learning to define myself outside of a school setting,” Barrie-Rose explains. “I decided to do Global Citizen Year and to go to Senegal in particular because I wanted to know what it was like to live in a country with a culture and history different from my own, and the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a new community.”

Barrie-Rose took on an English teaching apprenticeship at the Senegalese primary school, where she learned the importance and value of finding balance between structured day-to-day life and freedom.

Since Senegal’s work-life balance differs greatly from the United States, she not only had time to spend with her host family, but also had personal time.

My life and career interests would be drastically different if I had not taken a gap year,” Barrie-Rose says. “My gap year gave me time to think about what exactly my academic, career and personal interests truly are, without the added pressure of being in an environment where getting a job with the highest salary, regardless of social impact and personal happiness, is the most important.”

Your Turn: Would you take a gap year? Let us know in the Facebook comments!

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder and a senior at The University of Tampa. She didn’t take a gap year, but she traveled during her summer breaks.

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