Open Panel: Consider the gap year

Today, May 1st, marks the deadline when admitted students must decide whether or not they will matriculate at Brown. On this occasion, BlogDailyHerald has assembled a sampling of students and recent alumni who chose to take a “gap year,” or a year off in between high school and higher education. These Brunonians have offered their candid insights on why they opted to devise their own sixteen-month-long itinerary, rather than transitioning conventionally from high school to college. Whether Brown chooses to defer your acceptance or you are considering deferring your acceptance to Brown, this open panel can serve as a resource as you figure out what you will do over your gap year or if a gap year would be right for you.

Name: Andrew Linder

Graduation Year/Concentration: 2017, Slavic Studies

How did you spend your gap year?: The short answer is that I spent 9 months living in Kazan, Russia taking intensive daily language courses. The long answer is that I went with a National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship, which is a program fully funded by the U.S. Department of State. I was with 14 other American students in Kazan. I lived with a host family who spoke no English but had two amazing pugs.

Why did you take a gap year?: I knew that I at least wanted to entertain the idea of a gap year because it sounded like a unique experience and something that I might benefit from. I applied to NSLI-Y at the same time as I was applying to schools. I was accepted to the program and to college in the same week and I had to make my decisions (about school and whether or not I would take a gap year) pretty quickly. I was nervous about taking a full year off but when I weighed the pros and cons I quickly realized that there were actually no cons. The stretch from first grade through high school is 12 years, which is a really long time. For most people this stretch then turns into 16 years and maybe even more with graduate school. Taking a break from the same schedule of schooling every year was intriguing and seemed pretty refreshing.

Why would you recommend a gap year to incoming students: There is absolutely no question in my mind that taking a gap year was a great choice. A year between high school and college, regardless of what you do with it, is a really awesome time to reflect on a lot of things. As tacky as it sounds, I learned so much about myself on my gap year. When I came back from my year off, I felt like I was recharged.  I was excited to get back into the classroom and meet new people.

I think some students are concerned that being a year older than all of your classmates might be weird, but I honestly haven’t even noticed it. The only time the age difference has been an issue is that now that I’m 21 I can go to the GCB, but most of my friends are still too young (yo hit me up if you’re interested in joining me).

There is also a myth that taking a gap year is very expensive, [and] therefore not an option for everybody. I want to stress that this is not true. My program was completely free, as are a ton of other programs. It’s also important to note that you can really do anything on your gap year. While I know a lot of students who traveled in some way during the year, I know plenty of others who volunteered, had jobs, or found some combination of these options. I actually have never heard anyone say that they regret taking a gap year; I have only heard people say they regret not taking a gap year.


Name: Noah Elbot

Graduation Year/Concentration: 2014, Economics and East Asian Studies

Why did you take a gap year?: I realized I had been in school for the entirety of my memory. I wanted to try a year where that was not the case.

Why would you recommend a gap year to incoming students: For me, the most important lesson of a year off was learning how to fill space. You have a blank canvas of a year, and it can be a hard thing to fill it in a way that feels meaningful to you. This actually isn’t so different than the space you have to work and play during your four years at Brown, so the lesson carries over.

How did you spend your gap year?: I pursued an old dream of teaching as a wilderness instructor. I did an Outward Bound instructors’ course in western Oregon to learn teaching skills for climbing, mountaineering, and rafting. I then got a job in Wyoming directing a whitewater rafting program for an all-boys leadership camp outside of Yellowstone Park.

 Name: Anonymous Phe

Graduation Year/Concentration: 2016, BEO

Why did you take a gap year?: After the world’s most drawn-out admissions process, I was given a deferred offer of admission in June of my senior year. I had to decide between starting at the normal time at a different university and taking a year off and starting at Brown, but there was so much internal and external pressure that I literally couldn’t make the choice. In the end I flipped a coin and ended up at Brown. It turned out to be probably the best decision I’ve ever made (or haven’t made).

Would you recommend a gap year to incoming students? Why?: I would absolutely recommend a gap year. I was pretty residually angry about the deferred admission but it turned out to be the thing I needed most before starting college, and I never would have considered it without Brown “strongly encouraging” me to do it. I had a relatively traumatic experience as a junior in high school that I’d never had time to get over and as a person, I was kind of half-formed. Not to sound nauseatingly cliché, but I needed time to find myself. It was almost weird actually, getting to Brown and watching my peers struggle with independence, asserting their own identities and learning to be away from home. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that all while dealing with academic and social pressures. In general I feel like a genuinely better person – not better than my peers, but better than who I would have been.

How did you spend your gap year?: I spent six months in a small rural village in Mexico, teaching English to students aged 4-17. After that I came home and worked a shitty retail gig (which made me especially grateful to be moving on to get my degree.)

Name: Kevin Eve

Graduation Year/Concentration: 2018, Physics

Why did you take a gap year?: 

  • I was not sure what I wanted to pursue during my time at Brown so taking a year to contemplate where my passions truly lied seemed like a valuable use of time.
  • I thought that being older and more mature would allow me to better take advantage of opportunities (social, extracurricular, leadership, research, employment, etc.) that are offered at Brown.
  • I wanted to be fluent in another language. I think the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to learn a language is living, working or taking classes in a country where that language is spoken.
  • I found high school fairly stressful and was not interested in immediately embarking on another stressful experience
  • There is no other time in your life when you will not be expected to be employed or seeking employment, [so] taking advantage of that seemed like a no brainer.
  • I thought it would be really fucking fun, and it was!
Why would you recommend a gap year to incoming students: I think everyone has uncertainties and insecurities in high school and entering college. A gap year is time to sort out and come to terms with those insecurities. It is also time to grow and learn as a person. Many of the social and independent living skills that I learned on my gap year proved invaluable at Brown. Living away from home for the first time can be a bumpy transition, learning to live without oversight and a direct safety net before Brown is a good idea. Youth is not a thing to be squandered on 22 years of school. A gap year is a time to enjoy being young and all the great things it allows. One of the most profound realizations that I had during my year off was that being young is very temporary. I made friends with many people in their mid-twenties who were dealing with this conundrum in a more direct way. They clearly wanted to continue hostel hopping and careless living but the pull of finding a career and spouse was strong. More generally, my gap year was incredibly fun and memorable and I am certain that the amazing freshman year that I experienced would not have been possible without it.
 How did you spend your gap year?: 
  • Summer 1: I worked at a yacht club in Bermuda, teaching at a sailing camp.
  • Fall: I sailed from Australia to Thailand on a Sail-Training Vessel earning certifications that allow you to work on other sail boats. The routine of ocean passage sailing was very conducive to long periods of contemplative thought.
  • Spring: I lived with a host family in Seville, Spain taking classes at a language school. During weekends and weeks off of class I traveled throughout Europe either by myself or with friends, taking advantage of cheap ryanair flights! I found a week I spent traveling alone, but making friends on the way, was perhaps the most formative week of my entire year.
  • Summer 2: I worked on a sail boat in Bermuda that takes at-risk youths on weeklong voyages around Bermuda. Living, working, and sleeping with 20 middle-school-aged kids was extremely tiring, but immensely enjoyable. Also, living in such close quarters exasperated workplace conflicts and experiencing those, even though they did not involve me, was eye-opening.

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