Pre-college "gap years"were anything but empty, takers report

By Evan Radeem

This past August, most Macalester first-years were busy running around, buying laptops and preparing for college. There were, however, a handful of would-be first-years gathering their passports, making last-minute travel plans, and getting ready for a sort of sabbatical. An increasing number of students, both at Macalester and at schools across the country, are taking “gap years.” In most cases, these students will apply to college their senior year, then defer a year in order to travel, take classes, work at home, or just be out on their own. “After high school, I felt like I just didn’t want to be a student anymore,” said Will Chilton ’11, who backpacked through Europe for six weeks during his year off.

Chilton said he was tired of being in a constricting academic setting, where everything, including college, was “rammed down our throats.” After some convincing, Chilton’s parents agreed to let him go to Europe, where Chilton traveled by himself to 15 different countries. Over the course of the trip, Chilton said he got good at talking to strangers, handling traveling crises and being on his own.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” he said.

Hannah White ’12 called her gap year a chance to “try and learn stuff I had never been taught in school before.”

White traveled to Costa Rica for four months, where she volunteered and lived with a host family. After taking a little time at home, she then traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she lived in a hostel while working with a local organic cheese farmer. Without much of a plan, White said her gap year was a break from the rigidity of high school.

“It was definitely worth it,” White said. “I felt like so many things were missing from my formal education; I just needed to get out and see things.”

Ali Stewart ’11 also saw her year off as a chance to take a break from school and “hone in on [her] interests.” Stewart took a year off to travel to India and South America.

Like Chilton and White, Stewart said it was “just nice to have a break,” travel, and learn outside the confines of an academic institution.

Although she was overcome with the who-needs-college notion at one point during the year, Stewart said the transition to Macalester was not a difficult one. Overall, she assessed the year as a great experience, which gave her the chance to learn more both about herself and other cultures.