Elementary school, middle school, high school, college. Most current CHS students are privileged enough that this sequence of education is an expectation, even an assumption, from the start. But could it be that this is not the only path to earning a substantial education? Some, albeit few, current students and grads believe that they will benefit or have already benefited from straying from this sequence by not immediately attending college following their high school graduation. The globe investigates the ins and outs of those who have previously taken gap years and those who are considering doing so.
CHS English teachers will be thrilled to learn that current CHS senior Sam Wilson’s life has been changed by a book. Specifically, a recent AP Language assignment has caused him to consider taking a gap year following his graduation this spring.
“I think it was the summer going into senior year I really got serious about it,” Wilson said. “I’ve always wanted to do a gap year, but after reading Walden on Wheels, it kind of inspired me to do something on my own.”
Wilson, a passionate nature enthusiast, hopes to take the year to explore; both himself and the beautiful world around him. He mentioned several times wanting to work at a national park and hiking on his days off, or perhaps traveling the world and visiting family members in other states along the way. When asked his motivation to take a gap year, one cannot be surprised to hear that “having a year-long break [from school] would be really nice.” Wilson lead to this by explaining how he wants to “not be institutionalized” and “find out who [he is] outside of school.”
While Wilson and many other seniors dream of big things such as this, parents are sometimes the hardest to see eye to eye with.
“My dad doesn’t love the idea,” Wilson admitted. “I don’t know if he gets why I want to do it. My parents really want me to work for a bit, I think three to six months of the year.”
Wilson further described this by detailing his ideas for the following year. “I don’t want to work or do something that I could do after college, I want to do something that I’d be underqualified for. I’m just trying to find out what I really like.”
As a result of the immediate college culture at CHS, Wilson feels slightly isolated by his consideration.
“I guess I just wanna take my time and no one else sees it my way.”
Contrary to Wilson’s beliefs, many other CHS grads went through a process similar to his own, all claiming that taking the leap was one of the best decisions they have ever made.
Photo from Walsh
It was March of 2018. Clayton grad Catherine Walsh was fully prepared to accept her offer of admission to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that had been extended to her a few weeks prior. But then, one passing comment from close friend Anna Dinsmore sparked a sort of paradigm shift for Walsh. Dinsmore mentioned that she had recently decided to take spend a semester in France before heading off to college the following year. Walsh fell in love with the idea.
“I think the reason that sounded so good was because I just felt so burnt out from high school. Especially at Clayton, It’s just so competitive, you’re always working hard, and I needed a break from that. I wanted to mature in a different way than I thought I could in college, so I decided to do a gap year,” Walsh said.
The passion was there — the next step was convincing the parents. Her mom was on board since the beginning. Her dad, however, was slightly more hesitant. He shared the mindset of many parents of prospective gap year students — that his daughter wouldn’t want to begin college the following year, or ever.
Walsh navigated this obstacle by doing research. After solidifying the fact that UWM would allow her to defer her acceptance, she dove into a search for programs that combined study abroad experiences with those typical of a gap year. It turned out that Spain housed many such programs, Walsh eventually choosing one that would allow her to live with a host family while taking classes at a local university. The ability of deferral and a sketched-out plan proved to be enough security to convince Walsh’s dad that taking a gap year was an acceptable, if not beneficial, option for her.
Soon, Walsh was living with her family in Seville, taking Spanish culture classes such as cooking and art. Although her deferral meant she couldn’t earn credits towards her eventual college degree, Walsh experienced no shortage of gained knowledge, spending her time traveling around Europe with friends when she wasn’t in class. She was infatuated with Spain.
“I loved every part of it. I got to meet people that were already in college and make friends with them. I got to be completely immersed in the Spanish culture. I was living with a Spanish family, I was speaking the language every day, I was eating the food, I walked around. . . finding that new home was my favorite part,” Walsh said.
Entering college as a nineteen-year-old freshman the following year proved to be slightly uncomfortable at first. The minuscule age gap was perpetrated by those who felt that they were superior to Walsh. Even so, she was easily able to make friends, while still maintaining those she made while in Spain. Her travels even inspired her to take classes such as Chicano/Latino Studies and Social Work.
Needless to say, Walsh is endlessly grateful for the opportunities she seized during her time away from the traditional school system. She believes that these opportunities would also be beneficial to many other students at Clayton, yet college mindsets often get in the way.
“Everyone seemed supportive of [my gap year], but at the same time, no one was like ‘oh, I should do that.’ It was the alternative option. I think at Clayton, college is the only option. I hadn’t even thought about taking a gap year until March. That just shows you how one-track-minded I was like all the other students are and were. I would say there is a little bit of a stigma around it.”
It is true that an immediate college track is often assumed for a majority of CHS students, yet within a school atmosphere that is in constant pursuit of broadening perspective, a gap year may be the platform to do just that.
“I’m so glad I took a gap year. I came back really refreshed, ready to work, with this new experience and new maturity that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t done it. I found my passion for travel. It opened my eyes in a way I wasn’t expecting.”
Photo from Dinsmore
Craig and Monica Dinsmore had brilliant recommendations for their daughter when she came to them mid-junior year, stressed about college and conflicted with the many opportunities for her future. Monica had the idea of a gap year before college, and Craig proposed sending Anna abroad for a semester to study in France.
“He actually had a general idea of what city he wanted to send me to,” Anna said, “and he found me an apartment to rent through Airbnb.”
Monica was supportive of her daughter, but initially, she didn’t want to send Anna away to another country. She helped to organize and get Anna settled to “lessen the culture shock.” Anna’s former teachers at CHS were also quite encouraging, reassuring Anna that she was making the right decision by explaining how much she would grow and change from the incredible opportunity at hand. Anna recognized that it’s not financially possible for everyone to be able to spend a semester studying abroad, but she still recommends taking a gap year to anyone interested.
“Take a year off, work and grow up a little bit, and just give yourself a little time,” Anna said.
In August of 2018, two months after Anna graduated, she flew by herself across the world to France. She got an internship in a high school to tutor kids in English and was able to explore the language and culture of the country each day, learning more about France in those months than she ever had in school.
“It was rough, but it was worth it,” Anna said.
The other semester was utilized by Anna to get serious about the next steps of her life. She started working at Pink, selling and cleaning as a customer relations worker to save up money for college. With Anna having time off, the Dinsmores were able to research and visit colleges sparking her interests.
Anna admitted that she thinks there is a stigma about taking gap years at Clayton. Despite this, she repeated that “if you are set in the idea that you want to go to college, then it’ll stay there if you just ignore [the stigma] and know that [a gap year] is best for you.”
Photo from Soares
It is snowing in Argentina. Hard. Four feet to be exact. CHS grad Daniel Soares, ‘17, drives to a launch site at 4:30 a.m. to complete the task given to him as a result of his position as the youngest intern for the Perlan Project: shoveling snow.
First, Soares must clear a path so that the Perlan glider’s doors can open for the pilots. After the glider launches, he must stay on the ground for the next several hours, clearing a place for the glider to land, where he will help the pilots out of the cockpit, then begin checking the breathers and the radiation gauges for the next flight.
Such was Soares’ routine for a month and a half beginning in August, a time when most other CHS grads were just beginning school. Of course, working for a company that researches more efficient methods of flying with natural weather patterns wasn’t always his plan.
Initially, Soares was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with a friend from the High Mountain Institute in Colorado, which Soares attended the first semester of his junior year. When this friend backed out in March due to parental concerns, Soares found a replacement, peer Fabio Zihlmann, and they headed off, quite literally, down the trail.
Needless to say, Soares thrived during his gap year, which served as a much-needed break from his normal routine.
“It was nice to reset. It was a much-needed break. I got kind of burnt out at Clayton,” Soares said.
After so many unique experiences, Soares’ transition back to a school schedule at Colorado College the following year was palpable.
“It felt weird to go back to school. My roommate took a gap year as well, so we were both in this weird place. We would be sitting in class thinking ‘Oh, a couple of months ago, I was in Argentina and Brazil.’ It’s kind of weird to see the real world and then have to go to school,” Soares said.
Even so, Soares’ internships provided him with a zest for learning that carried him throughout his first two years.
“They were both unpaid, so that was a bummer for the bank account, but they were both good learning opportunities. I wasn’t sure about studying computer science before I took my gap year. I had never really coded. My internship made me want to delve deeper into it. If I hadn’t taken it, I would’ve wasted a lot of time freshman year figuring out what I wanted to do. It was nice to go into college being several steps ahead of my peers.”
Similar to Walsh, Soares feels that Clayton’s enforcement of a college track takes away from the potential benefits of gap years.
“Clayton is so regimented. You have to study your ass off to get good grades and to get a good ACT score to go to the best schools. I feel like once people get into the school, they want to be rewarded and have the satisfaction of going to the school, so they don’t want to wait. When I took my gap year and told people about it, they were like ‘Oh, you’re not in school?’ I think it’s a bad stigma. [Gap years] have a lot of benefits.”