5 Unexpected Things I Learned During My Gap Year
I had no idea what my gap year had in store for me.
It was the spring of 2020, my sophomore year and the year of COVID-19, so I left school in Pittsburgh to head home to Alabama.
After finishing my spring classes online, I had to decide whether I would return to school that year. The thought of a gap year was daunting because, initially, I had the fear I would “get behind.” I was looking forward to my junior year: World-renowned guest artists were choreographing dance pieces, I had a spot as a resident advisor and looked forward to another year working toward my degree.
My mom and I discussed the decision at length. At the time, I did not feel I had enough information to make a comfortable, informed decision to return, due to the fact I have some immune-compromising health conditions.
And I wanted to have the same, full college experience I had had for years prior and not pay the full cost of tuition for a seemingly lesser experience. It was no one’s fault, but just the situation at hand.
I was a little disappointed at first to take a gap year, but I knew I could turn it into an opportunity to grow, a blessing to spend more time with family, and a time to reground myself—all while still keeping my goals in mind.
The 5 Things I Learned from Taking a Gap Year from College
1. Any and every experience offers a lesson to be learned.
A lot of learning happens outside the classroom, which is also known as experiential learning. The skills needed to be successful at school and/or life in general, like time management, organization, communication, problem-solving, and leadership to name a few, are not always developed solely from taking a class.
I feel like I have been able to supplement my classroom learning with working experience. It is important for me to remember part of the human experience is understanding my worth is not determined by the amount of work I produce. Maya Angelou perfectly summed up this idea when she said, “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Even though I already knew this, I felt like I put this in practice when I did not have any classes or specific deadlines to adhere to. The skills school and dance taught me, previously, helped me be successful at being self-disciplined and resilient, currently.
Furthermore, taking a break from school is a great example of when I felt I was really challenged, mentally, but still made the most of the year by gaining various dancing, teaching, and learning opportunities. It was isolating but taking the time to reflect was, also, beneficial to reconnect with me, my goals, and my inner strength.
Just because my life is not structured or dictated by a school schedule, as it had been for 15 years, does not mean I cannot learn from other, new experiences.
2. Networking shouldn’t stop when class does.
During the pandemic, I wanted to work on reaching out to people and being more supportive of others during this difficult time. This includes keeping and strengthening the connections I made at school while keeping and strengthening the connections I already have in my Birmingham dance community. In a “normal” year, I would be so engulfed in my own life and busy prioritizing whatever I was working on.
At first, I wanted to feel adjusted and hole up into my little bubble, even though I am naturally outgoing, extroverted, and a social person.
Yet, I knew the pandemic was going to end. I missed connecting with people, even in a pandemic. Thankfully, social media has made reaching out easier, in a way, because it can start as simply as a comment on a post or answer to a story.
Talking to my friends helps me feel grounded. We had virtual escape rooms, a Netflix party and jackbox.tv games. Although, in some ways, I feel like too much social media consumption has had a detrimental effect on my mental health.
3. Sticking to a schedule makes focusing easier.
Honestly, right now, I feel like I have lost a lot of motivation I had compared to the beginning of the pandemic. But a good way I try to fight this is to make a schedule and stick to it.
Living with my family can be distracting (even though I’m very grateful for this unexpected time we were able to spend together). Therefore, even if every week or day-to-day schedule cannot be the same, I have a certain allotted time specifically for me to feel productive, like going to a socially-distanced dance class, working out at home, brainstorming with friends about artistic projects we’re each working on, or working on my remote jobs.
At times, I feel that distractions, namely social media, have eaten up my productivity and have made me feel insecure about not being at school or that I’m not taking as much advantage of the time I have. I remember, though, that even though my path may not be conventional, it works for me.
4. Planning ahead keeps goals in sight.
Another way I took advantage of my gap year was doing things I would not have had time to do during school.
I made myself a professional website and opened a savings account. I looked at dance companies I would like to join after I graduate, used the Duolingo app to advance my study of French, and began creating a five-year plan along with back-up plans.
Another habit I want to start for myself is journaling to solidify all the ideas that are inside my head and give me another outlet of expression. This gives me something to physically look at so I can think ahead and work towards.
I have also already registered for my classes next semester, and have had the pleasure to be offered the resident advisor position again.
Even though a lot of my friends will be seniors or graduating this year, I feel I will be going in with the advantage of newfound maturity and an idea of what I want my life after college to look like.
5. Saving money feels… rich.
After I opened a savings account and started putting money away, I felt rich.
It gave me a sense of financial security and freedom. I didn’t open one before because I felt like I wasn’t making enough to save. This is something I wish I had done sooner.
Furthermore, before the student loan forgiveness bill passed, I was expecting and planning to start paying back my government loans; I have also taken out private loans and regardless would have to start paying those back as well.
Learning how to budget and be fiscally responsible is a habit I am trying to instill now to prepare for a prosperous future.
I know right now I’m not only investing in myself, but in my future.
My Takeaway from Taking a Gap Year
Even though this past year did not go as initially planned, I feel extremely blessed by all the opportunities and everything I have learned that comes with industry, working experience.
I feel like I have a clearer idea of where I want to go with my career, what life is going to feel like after college, and how daily, healthy self-care and reflection can positively impact my growth.
I have learned that any and every experience can be a time to learn, keep networking, stick to a schedule, plan ahead, and start saving money.
Even if some see a gap year as a step back, I feel confident in my decision and am feeling positively towards the future.
Without looking back, there is no smart way to move forward.
More Articles By Niche
What It’s Like Being from a Small Town at a City School
Trading your rural roots for a college in the city can be quite a shock to the system. Niche ambassador Heidi Temple shares what she learn when she left rural Pennsylvania for an Ivy League college.
What I Gained By Enrolling in an Honors Program
Curious about honors colleges or programs? Niche ambassador Rosalie Anthony shares her experience.
3 Ways to “Fix” a Fixed Mindset
Feeling stuck, well, sucks. But there is a trick to fixing your “fixed” mindset.