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Gap Years: Great Education Before College

Although it seems delaying the start of college will slow down a student’s progress, the “high-risk” strategy of taking a gap year can advance students lightyears ahead of their cohort. Career and life success isn’t about how soon you begin. Rather success grows from how well you begin.

Gap students – and their families – often harbor fears and doubts about a year away from conventional academics. Jordan recalls his trepidation: “For the first time in my life, I was completely removed from the lock-step academic system I now refer to as the ‘moving sidewalk.’ The unstructured nature of a self-constructed gap year was unsettling. I felt a combination of being pressed for time to make something happen and a complete lack of experience to know where, what, or how to begin. I was concerned that I would inevitably fall behind my friends, an idea which in retrospect is absurdly backward.”

With proper resources, self-motivation, and intelligent structure (ideally with a proper mentor), a gap year will afford the opportunity to gain experience you will otherwise wait four years to encounter. The lessons learned can mature students well beyond their group. Insight makes the college education more valuable, makes the job candidate more qualified, and makes the first years of a career more fruitful, leading to greater long-term success.

Jordan’s experience involved multiple internships, personal research, and two entrepreneurial endeavors. “I found passions beyond the blind choice of academic major that I had initially made. Over the course of my gap year, I studied and began trading cryptocurrencies to a great deal of success; learned technical and fundamental analyses through interviews of professionals and through self-education; partnered as a Director for the world’s first cryptocurrency-based non-profit foundation; pitched a mobile application and payment platform to a successful data-mining company; found funding and engaged a tech team in India to turn my concepts into reality; and worked with driven teams of professionals at three different internships.

“Beyond that, I have enjoyed an amazing amount of personal growth. I have become more independent, overcome anxiety in the professional environment, and gained confidence in my abilities. Through both direct instruction and osmosis, I absorbed business sense, professional skills, analytical and critical thinking, and most significantly an overarching and success-conducive outlook on life.”

But gap years do come with obstacles. A gap year is entirely what the student makes of it, so without motivation, real progress can be slow or non-existent. Even with the right mindset and structure, the discomfort of being on your own for the first time can persist. Unlike college, which has a calendar and a syllabus as guideposts for progress, there are extended periods of time during which it feels as if you may not be moving forward quickly enough. Jordan felt this. “My discomfort was due to my limited perception. While others saw the greater value of what I had been doing, I only saw the everyday work that slowly made each accomplishment occur. My progress seemed routine to me and thus less personally satisfying. The first couple of times I encountered a rut, it was incredibly distressing. Yet as I continued with my work and my outreach, a new milestone, project or goal would always arise. Because a gap year is so free-formed, you simply cannot expect the formulaic progression of high school or college.”

Nevertheless, a good gap year is truly life-changing. “The progress you do make can be incredibly positive and unlike anything you could realistically achieve within college. My friends, now two years into college, are still looking to build a resume, land internships, and even acquire the most basic professional experience. They now ask me for experience-based advice. The best part of my gap year was accepting the idea that age, experience, and social expectations do not limit my pursuits.”

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