Why Choose a Gap Year?

Hey everyone! This is my first blog post so I'll start by briefly introducing myself.

I'm Derek Redfern, one of about 20 students who have chosen to defer to the Olin Class of 2015. Currently, I'm traveling around Europe with David '15, one of my future classmates. The posts I make on the student blog will be less about student life and more about my year between high school and college. (Check out my About Me page!)

My first post will tackle the basics of a gap year. Mainly: Why defer?

I never chose to take a year off. It just...grew on me. Let me explain.

I grew up used to a fast pace of life in a small town in Connecticut. In New England, you know exactly what's expected of you: you try your hardest in school, perform well in sports, join extracurriculars, take up leadership positions, and basically do everything required to get you into a good school. I've heard it's the same to varying degrees in other parts of America as well. But New England is notorious for these expectations placed on students. I certainly conformed to many of them, and so taking a year off never even crossed my mind. It's just not something that's done. People either go straight to college, join the Armed Forces, or find a job.

I was accepted to one of the Candidate's Weekends at Olin but got waitlisted after that. The bad news came in: the Class of 2014 couldn't accept any students on the waitlist. At the time, it seemed like the end of the world for me. Sure, I had other options - I could attend Harvey Mudd or WPI - but I wanted to go to Olin more than any other school.

My only remaining option was to defer. It was a terribly hard decision for me, since I could only see the negatives. (I'm not usually this pessimistic.) I'd be the only person from my town taking a year off. I would be a year behind my friends in school, and I wouldn't get to go to college until the following year. I had some idea of what I would do during that year, but what if it fell through? Would I be working 9-5 at a retail store for the whole year? There were too many questions and not enough answers.

Eventually, I decided to take a chance and choose deferral. Sometimes, the hardest - and least popular - option is the best one, as I've been finding out. I already know that I absolutely made the right choice. As I progress into my gap year, I've been seeing more of the positives and much, much less of the negatives.

Here are some benefits of taking a gap year:

- High school drains you with the stressful workload and aforementioned fast pace of life. A break between high school and college can do you wonders.

- Did you know that in England, it's more uncommon for a student to not take a gap year? Parents encourage their kids to take time off and see a bit of the world before they go to "Uni".

- Sure, your friends will be a year ahead of you in school (I've been hearing from mine about their lives at college) but so what? You'll get there eventually. And you'll be having adventures of your own.

- Depending on how you choose to spend your year, you'll likely arrive at college with significantly more real-world experience than your peers. Who else can say they've attended a party deep within the catacombs under Paris? (I have.)

- You'll be able to do things you'd never have a chance to do otherwise. Travel Europe. Hike from Georgia up to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Learn to speak fluent Hungarian. Everyone has a dream - take a year to follow yours.

- A gap year is a chance to see the world. You can broaden your horizons immensely, which is a particularly useful trait for an engineer. One of the more practical aspects is that you'll be able to see what people have a need for in other parts of the globe.

- It's just plain fun. While this may not be useful in convincing one's parents, I've been having a blast so far.

- If you want more evidence that taking a gap year is a good idea, check out my personal blog that I cowrite with David '15 about our adventures in Europe. http://eurotripattackofthenerds.blogspot.com

At some point, prospective students may stumble upon this post. If you're one of them, I have some advice for you:

I recommend a gap year to anyone willing to make that leap of faith, even though the concept is not popular in America. Deferring takes a lot of planning and firm intentions (which will be covered in subsequent posts) but most of all, you have to be willing to go against the grain. The choice is yours - but I assure you that the opportunity is a worthwhile one.

Feel free to comment or email me (redfern.derek at gmail.com) with any questions!

I'll end this post with a favorite quote of mine. Just something to think about.

< Derek >

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 ~ Robert Frost

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