The choice to take a gap year: Experiences of 2021 graduates

Although the typical post-high school route for most graduates is heading straight to college, some students strive away from this common path and decide to take a gap year for various reasons. These include hopes for a clearer vision of future paths, the desire to experience cultures or even because of the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kihoon Lee and Zoë Jacobs are two Lincoln graduates from the class of 2021 who are currently taking a gap year.

For Lee, taking a gap year was something he didn’t plan on doing, and he didn’t know much about it. He was first pushed to take a gap year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the safety of going to school during a pandemic. 

“[Originally], I was just sticking with PCC and maybe if I got lucky, [I was going to] transfer to PSU my junior year,” Lee said.

His experience provides insight to students who may not currently know much about the option of a gap year, but are wanting a break from school, or simply wanting to focus on other things before deciding what to do in the future.

Differing from Lee, Jacobs went into her gap year with a thorough plan of what would come in her future. Jacobs was accepted into Scripps University as an early decision applicant, and she thought it would be a good experience to take a year off before pursuing her college plans. 

“I knew I wanted to have an opportunity to apply what I’ve learned throughout high school in a real life setting before deciding what I want to study,” Jacobs said. 

After announcing her decision to take a gap year and securing a spot at Scripps University with the admissions office, Jacobs spent a semester with an Adventures Cross Country (ARCC) gap year program focused on environmental sustainability. She camped around the Pacific Northwest working with partners ranging from professional ecologists to indigenous leaders. 

For the second half of her gap year, Jacobs is excited to take part in another program in Costa Rica focused on environmental sustainability. She looks forward to immersing herself in the new cultural setting. But, given the COVID-19 pandemic, Jacobs faces worries that are unique to current times. 

“With travel, I wouldn’t want to put a community at risk, which is something you wouldn’t have to think about in the same way before COVID-19. What has been a challenge is deciding and finding out what is the safest option for me and others, and I think other people taking a gap year before COVID-19 wouldn’t have to consider those implications,” Jacobs said.

Lee has an idea of what he wants to do in the near future. Starting in March, he plans to learn Korean for a few months at an international school in Korea. Lee is Korean-American, and is currently living in Korea. 

“My parents [are] the masters at speaking Korean, and they felt like they wanted me to learn the Korean language,” Lee said.

So far, he has been working out and creating YouTube content. YouTube is something he never thought about doing as a kid like many others may have. 

“One of my friends actually recommended me to do YouTube,” he said. “They felt like my energy [and] my reactions to certain things would be perfect for YouTube.”

He emphasized the importance of talking to people when having difficulty deciding what to do with your life, and what might best suit your interests. His friends gave an outside perspective on what he might excel at and be able to work on. Teachers can also see a student’s strengths and provide knowledge on what may be positive and negative about taking a gap year. 

“Ask a couple teachers, ask them what a gap year is. Ask them what the benefits and disadvantages of taking a gap year are,” Lee said. 

Lee believes that starting with what you know and building from there is important as well if you are unsure or unconfident in going down a new path. With YouTube, Lee is starting with sports content and expanding to other topics.

“For Youtube, I’m starting out with what I know from the bottom of my heart, like sports, and then as soon as I get better and better I’ll probably move on to [more topics],” Lee said. 

Jacobs and Lee both recommend the option of taking a gap year to current high school students. 

“If you feel bombarded with the amount of academics you have, I would advise [taking a gap year] because that way you can just take a break from doing all the academics—from doing homework every single day. Just take a look outside your role [as a student] and see what it’s like in the world,” Lee said.

Jacobs also agreed that one should take advantage of the gap year option. She emphasizes the importance of choosing the path for your post-high school plans that is best for you. 

“It’s okay to not be in the same place as your friends because sometimes it is easier to do the normal option or the one you know more about,” she said. “But a different option can be just as meaningful, if not even more so, at this point in your life.”