Why you should consider taking a gap year or semester

(FILE) Illustration of a paper plane flying and leaving a dotted trail around the globe.
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I spent the first two years of my college experience at New York University, and I was set to transfer to UC Berkeley for fall 2020. Two weeks into an online spring semester, I decided that whether or not I got an internship, I was not transferring to UC Berkeley in the fall. Firstly, taking my macroeconomics exam at 3:30 a.m. was simply unpleasant. Secondly, online school was not cool, because as someone with the attention span of a squirrel, I needed in-person lectures and interaction to learn. Thirdly, as a transfer, I needed friends, and how was I going to do that without the opportunity to meet my fellow Bears in person?

Despite this decision, I enrolled in a UC Berkeley summer class, and once it ended, I began hunting for fall internships. I had already withdrawn from the university, determined to take this gap year. But several internship rejections and a bombed interview later, life was not looking so bright. By late September, it dawned on me that I may have nothing at all to do for the fall. Intense visions of my bleak future flashed through my mind. I was going to be unemployed forever because of my plans for this fall semester. My parents were going to disown me and kick me out. I would be homeless by 2021. I should’ve flown back for my summer internship even though COVID-19 was taking the United States by storm.

As I do during all of my existential crises, I messaged my dad on WhatsApp, panicking about how my unemployed behind was rotting away and useless. My dad, on the other hand, seemed very excited, describing this as the “perfect opportunity to go to China and party.” After making this incredibly unfunny joke, he reassured me that a semester off was not a bad thing.

Upon further reflection, he’s totally right. During my semester off, it’s not like I’ve been decomposing in bed, despite my earlier predictions: I’ve been taking other classes, programming and pursuing hobbies that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the time to pursue. And I’m not being unproductive or wasting time — I’ve actually ended up saving time. The time off has given me a better idea of what I want to do with my degree and what I do not want to do. Plus, after making some friends at UC Berkeley through my summer class, I have a much better idea of what organizations I want to get involved with on campus and what classes I want to take. Finally, I must say, it was really nice to have a break after two exhausting years of trying to get the grades to transfer.

While I know not everyone may have the privilege or luxury to take a semester off, if you can, I strongly encourage you to do so. There’s always a pressure to always be doing something: school, internship, part-time job. And our society has this road map that you go to college straight out of high school, get your degree, get a job and settle down. But we’re living in unprecedented times, as Carol Christ often reminds us, and we at the Clog are here to tell you that this alone is reason enough for your plans to change. If my experience has taught me one thing, it’s that you don’t have to follow the conventional path to be successful and happy.

Contact Kristel Fung at [email protected].