Be happier; take a gap year


Photo courtesy of Celina Barnett-Cashman

Celina Barnett-Cashman, class of 2017, went on a gap year this year before attending college. Pictured here at The Monkey Farm in Playa del Coco, in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica, Barnett Cashman enjoyed her year because it was break from the common high to college pathway. “It’s definitely given me the perspective that I don’t have to lay out my life the way that society makes me think I have to lay it out.”

Livia Lund, Editor-in-chief

I never really thought of myself as someone who would take a gap year. I was familiar with the idea but never thought, ‘That’s me! I need to do that!’ However, when senior year hit and the stress of college applications increased in the fall, I was less and less excited at the idea of immediately continuing school the following year. Facing another four years of essays and stress made me feel anxious and tense.

So, I created this vague daydream of working on a farm and just being somewhere else, in a place where due dates and responsibilities weren’t a thing and my year wasn’t defined by a class schedule. Then I realized what that daydream was: a gap year.

One of my main reasons for wanting to taking a gap year is simply to experience a year without school and to take a mental break from academics. With so much pressure put on students to go into college right away and to get a job after graduating, this felt like a way to slow it down and take control of my own life.

“I’m looking forward to getting out of the schedule that school has ingrained in us,” said senior Saryn Sherrell, who will be working and travelling next year. For Celina Barnett-Cashman, class of 2017, taking a gap year has changed the way she thinks about her life plan. Barnett-Cashman worked, aided in disaster relief, and volunteered for various organizations in Costa Rica. “It’s definitely given me the perspective that I don’t have to lay out my life the way that society makes me think I have to lay it out,” she said.

A common reason against taking a gap year is that it can be expensive. Many “gap-year programs” cost thousands of dollars and don’t offer a lot of flexibility with place or time. However, it’s important to note that there is not one right way to do a gap year. To me, the point of the year is to to unwind and do what works for me. The reasoning of senior Mateo Pignatello, who plans on working on organic farms and traveling solo, is simply to “do something that no one had told me to do.”

In some ways, gap years can in fact save you money. Many people go into college not knowing what they want to study; taking a gap year can give you time and space to figure out what you are passionate about. This was one of the main reasons Barnett-Cashman took a gap year, after struggling with decisions about her future in her senior year of high school. “I made a final decision [to take a gap year] because I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do [enough] to spend money on it,” she said.

Sherrell agreed. “I think [a gap year is] a good option, just to figure yourself out because you don’t really know what you want to do…when you’re 18 years old,” she explained. “It’s a lot of money to spend on [college] not knowing [what you want to study].”

If you want to travel, there are cheaper ways to do it. Programs such as Workaway or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) give you thousands of groups all over the world that will give you food and place to stay for some amount of volunteer work in return. This can be anything from working in a bed and breakfast in France to helping at a monkey farm in Costa Rica, as Barnett-Cashman did.

The advantages of taking a gap year don’t end when the gap year does. Taking this time away from school can also help you learn to live more independently. In addition, having a year to grow and have new experiences — whatever that means to you — gives you a different perspective on the world then going to college fresh out of high school.

“You just grow up in a way that I don’t think you can as a freshman in college,” said Barnett-Cashman. Although Sherrell is still not sure what her year will look like, she does know she wants to explore new ways of learning. “ I don’t want to waste a year of my life. I want to learn in different ways then school.”

One part of my gap year is tied down: I will be working in northern Minnesota at Maple Lag, a ski resort which I’ve gone to the past three winter with South’s Nordic ski team. However, the majority of it is uncertain, with the possibility of doing disaster relief or a workaway program in France. Whatever it is, I’m excited for the chance to do something different then what I’ve known for the past 12 years.

As I think about the year ahead of me I still have some doubts. Will I miss out on experiences my friends going to college will have? Will it be expensive? Will I get lonely? I am most encouraged by people like Barnett-Cashman who have gone through the gap year process and come out happy. “I’m just so so so glad I took a gap year. I think everyone should take one.”