Why I'm Not In College
Why I'm Not In College
by Christopher Frederick
Going directly to college? I've got a better idea.
Take a gap year.
I'm taking a gap year as you read this sentence. So what do I do? I rent a room in Ithaca, New York. I take Brazilian guitar lessons twice a week. I play samba music at Cornell University every Thursday. I volunteer for Prisoner Express, a journal of writing by prison inmates. I cook my own food. I'm traveling to South America for four months to learn Spanish.
And I pay for everything myself.
Okay, now it's your turn. You're a senior, you got in to college, but you choose to wait a year before you go. Now what? First, ask your college to defer your admission. Lucky for you, deferring is easy. Usually all you need to do is click "defer" and write a couple sentences about your plans, to prove you're not going to stay home watching TV all year.
Where's the catch? Why is this so easy? It's because many colleges recognize the advantages of time away from school. If you need a high-profile endorsement, look no further than Harvard, which actively encourages each admitted student to consider a gap year between high school and college with an article entitled “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation." Or take Princeton, which just unveiled a "bridge year" program that will pay for up to 10% of every incoming freshman class to first spend a year in another country learning to speak a foreign language and volunteering.
It's a fact: more and more college-bound students are finding out they don't have to go straight to college. Yet too many of us continue to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: only about 30 students from my college took time off this year, out of a freshman class of 1,700.
Let's change that. Are you with me? Here's how to get started on your own gap year, based on my experience paying for and organizing this year independently:
Talk to people.
Ask around, and you'll find people who took a gap year. Email them or send a Facebook message; get lunch with them if they live nearby. Bring good questions and write down what they say.
How about connecting with kids from your college? For example, if you're going to Popcollar College, see if there's a "Popcollar Class of 2014" Facebook group, then make a post asking anyone who took a gap year to contact you. Also, ask the admissions office for a list of other freshmen who are choosing a year off. Find just one cool person on that list, and bam, you and that cool person can keep in touch all year long.
Tapping into advice from adults is also incredibly useful, because if you're like me, you will need help at some point. Know any adults who are easy to talk to? My friend Gabe's parents helped me a lot, getting me organized when I was struggling and even editing this article. My dad didn’t understand at first why I wouldn’t want to go to college right after high school, but now he's a big supporter. My sister supported my gap year from the beginning; thanks to her I found Deixa Sambar, my samba group, and met my friend Roberto, who helped me practice Spanish in exchange for help with his English.
Pay for it yourself.
Why do I push this? Because skeptical parents (like mine) become more supportive when they aren't expected to pay for everything. A gap year does not have to be expensive, something you might not realize at first. Work and save up money, fundraise, or look into programs like AmeriCorps that actually pay you thousands of dollars to take a year off before college. Why would you want to work? Because jobs teach you a lot. They teach you that working is not always fun. They force you to be responsible in a way school does not. Can you manage money? Earn enough on your own, and suddenly being smart about money will seem a lot more relevant to your life. I saved up about $6,000 from my earnings; I drove vans for a tourism company, I worked as a car rental agent, and at a college bookstore. Best of all, I'm truly excited now for the freedom and easy opportunities I'll find in college. The bottom line?
Pay for a gap year yourself. Be in charge of your own life.
Get with the program.
Sign up for a year-long program, or string together a few programs. It is absolutely possible to create your own "programs" (for instance, I'm working through a list of books I always wanted to read), but it takes discipline. Side effects of a gap year are nearly all positive, but may include occasional doubt and frustration, so minimize those by good planning. Check out the programs below, which are either very low-cost or offer full scholarships.
I admit it. A gap year is not for everyone, but everyone should know it's an option. With some idea of what you want to do and a little motivation, you're ready to plan it yourself. Remember, we're not talking about never going to college, we're talking about taking college seriously by getting a dose of life experience before freshman year. Still listening? Don't defer the real world four more years; defer college instead.
Tell your friends: take a gap year.
If you're planning your own gap year and want extra resources that didn't fit in this article, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Security Language Initiative for Youth offers full scholarships to study a foreign language for a year or a summer in China, India, Korea, Russia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tajikistan, or Turkey. My friend Meredith is in Egypt with NSLI-Y, living with a host family and studying Arabic.
In this program founded by Michelle Obama, "Allies" become leaders in their communities through full-time, paid internships. Check out City Year for a similar urban service program offered in Philly. Public Allies and City Year are both AmeriCorps programs, which means they actually pay you $5,350 towards college and $1,000-$2,000 a month to cover living costs. Sound good?
For $85, you join a network of people around the world who host travelers in their homes at no charge. Instead of being a tourist, how about participating in the daily lives of real people? Check out the SERVAS Youth Language Exchange (SYLE) for a free month-long experience in Europe or Latin America. My own SYLE will be in Montevideo, Uruguay this spring for one month, and I will use my Servas membership this summer to stay with South Americans
The Gap Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off Before or During College
This book by Karl Haiger and Rae Nelson isn't the only one out there, but it’s easy to find at bookstores.
USA Gap Year Fairs
When are they coming to your city? Gap year fairs are popping up around the country, so check the schedule and find out. Go to be inspired and get ideas, but expect to hear self-promotion by companies hoping to sell you their version of a gap year. Remember, you don’t need to pay big bucks to do a gap year.
World-wide Opportunities on Organic Farms provides a free place to stay and meals in exchange for your work on an organic farm. WWOOF farms are all over the US and around the world.