Fears of Covid have thrown into disarray the start of college for millions of students, leading many to consider a gap year. At Harvard University alone, 20 percent of first-year students have deferred enrollment.
I am very familiar with gap years. I took one before college (1981-82) and again after graduating. The first was to figure out what I wanted to study (political science) and the second was to have some fun (ski bum) before settling into a lifetime of work.
Despite being a big fan of the concept, I’ve always hated the term “gap year.” It implies life is a cradle-to-grave conveyor belt and any digression from the appointed pathway is a “gap” in what otherwise should have been.
Nonsense. As philosophers and poets have opined for millennia, happiness derives from the journey, not the destination. We live our lives wherever we are: In college, on the ski hill, waiting tables, or even on a farm, as a friend’s son experienced in his time between high school and the Marines.
So, it’s time for a new phrase. I propose “Gel Year”: grow, explore, and learn.
In my two gel years, I did an immense amount of growing, exploring, and learning. The menial jobs I worked taught me the importance of eventually getting a college degree and put enough money in my pocket to keep my college debt to a minimum.
I matured a lot too, working side-by-side with adults at a major defense contractor. Time to think helped me discern my talents and interests, casting aside a number of prospective majors and careers. And my winter as a ski bum in rural Idaho was quite an eye-opener for this suburban Long Island kid, as was living in a trailer park after college.
As a life-long learner, those experiences and lessons were about as far from a “gap” in my life as I could get.
Just recently we learned that a family friend, dismayed by the inefficacy of virtual learning, has deferred the University of Virginia for a year and is looking to do an internship at a national park. She is a brave young lady. As I recall my 40-year old decision to defer college for a year, the peer pressure and institutional forces to stay on the conveyor belt are intense.
For those students thinking about deferring college for a year, please go for it. To gel for a year before or after college is anything but a gap.