Mind the gap: WHS students explore post-grad options

Tommy Davis at Muir Woods, a National Monument in California he hopes to revisit during his gap year (Photo by Tommy Davis)

In a town where it is the expectation that students will attend college directly after high school, it seems unusual for teenagers to pursue alternate paths. However, every year, there are always a few people who decide to deviate from the norm and take a gap year before attending college full-time. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, more high school seniors are considering this option.

Some people believe that gap years could cause students to fall behind, graduate late, or even veer off track and never attend college. However, recent studies and surveys display the resounding benefits of taking a gap year, whether it be for personal or financial reasons.

According to the American Gap Association, taking time off from school helps with academic burnout and engenders maturity, which leads to students going to college with a greater purpose and more focus. Gaining practical skills and new experiences during a gap year could also influence students’ career decisions. AGA found that 90 percent of students who take a “structured gap year” return to school within a year, and they are more likely to graduate with higher grade-point averages than “observationally identical individuals who went straight to college.”

WHS senior Tommy Davis had been considering taking a gap year since his junior year, and a few months ago, he deferred his acceptance to Penn State University until the fall of 2021 in order to work and travel.

Davis’ sister, Maddy, also took a gap year in 2018 to work on her music career and reapply to schools, which impacted his decision as well.

“I have always wanted to independently travel around the U.S, but school has always prevented me from doing this,” he said. “Since college, and ultimately the military will do the same thing, I figured now would be a great time to do it.”

Davis plans on seeing national parks around the country and spending time on the West Coast, while also seeing “what it’s like to live in less-than-ideal conditions and have to work for the money that [he is] going to buy food with.” Depending on the status of the pandemic, Davis would like to travel internationally after he finishes driving around the country.

Following his gap year, Davis plans on studying International Politics at PSU and participating in the NROTC program. Eventually, he would like to join the Marines.

The whole world has slowed down and allowed me to take a look at what I want to truly follow in life”

— Sophie Wayner

WHS senior Sophie Wayner is similarly opting for a gap year and plans to defer her enrollment to Mount Holyoke College until the fall of 2021. Due to her interest in equine careers, Wayner will be spending her gap year working full-time for a high-level horse show rider.

The horse world offers many unique career paths, so Wayner plans to spend her gap year delving into these diverse subdisciplines while working her job. “I will get experience being a working student and learn how a professional dressage barn is run and the managing, riding and equine nutrition that go into it,” said Wayner. “In addition, I am interested in shadowing my horse’s vet to explore the more scientific and medical side. I might also explore equine massage and different therapies for horses’ physical well-being with my equine chiropractor.”

Although Wayner considered the option of a gap year prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, she saw the pandemic as “a real sign telling [her] to go through with this plan.”

 “The whole world has slowed down and allowed me to take a look at what I want to truly follow in life,” she said.

Though it only reinforced Wayner’s decision, others are only now considering taking a gap year as a result of the pandemic, with financial struggles and the uncertainty of in-person college in the fall being deciding factors.

A poll conducted by the Art and Science Group, a company publishing college-related studies, found that 65 percent of college-bound students “express significant doubt about their ability to attend their first-choice school.” 

This uncertainty sparked 17 percent of incoming and current college students to change their fall plans due to the pandemic. Of this 17 percent, 16 percent have chosen a gap year as their alternative to attending a college in the fall. 

Regardless of the rationale, whether it be due to the pandemic or intrinsic ambitions, gap years provide unique opportunities for exploration outside of traditional academia.“The time between high school and college is one of the best times to do what you want in your life because you are not expected to be working in a professional career yet,” said Davis.