The following is a guest post from Ben Kim. Ben is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in Television and Media Studies.
I consider myself incredibly lucky. As many of you already know, it’s hard to graduate from a private university with a reasonable amount of debt. College tuition is continuing to skyrocket, and it’s one of the most pressing issues of our generation. Increasingly, people are realizing that the true value of education lies not in the degree, but rather the student’s ability to use available resources to further improve themselves. I’m inspired by this change in mindset.
I recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame. If I could go back in time, I would have just one piece of advice for my 18-year-old self: take a gap year before starting college.
Why take a gap year?
If you are at all unsure about why you’re going to college, you might want to consider a gap year before committing. With the price of a college education skyrocketing, it’s no longer the place to casually “figure out your life.” You (and your bank account) will be better served if you know what fascinates you BEFORE your step foot on a college campus. This way, you can take full advantage of the resources that are available to you at your university. Wandering around in college will leave you jobless and in debt.
The larger point is this: college is far from the only place where you can grow and challenge yourself intellectually.
But what do I do during my gap year?
Try new things. Explore. What drives you? What perplexes you? What challenges you?
Want to spend a year volunteering? That’s awesome! Look into programs like AmeriCorps. Interested in a new topic? Great. Take advantage of all the free MOOCs. Want to learn a second language? Bueno, head over to DuoLingo. Want to see if coding is right for you? Try it using Codecademy.
When you have free time, you start exploring. This helps you learn more about yourself -- what are your likes and dislikes? The downside to free time is that you have two options: you can either spend your days just “getting by” or actually make the best use out of your time. It’s up to you.
For me, college was a great experience. Unfortunately, too many high school students in the US attend college just for the “experience,” failing to make use of all the available resources. This is a mistake that I made in school. By taking a year off, you step back from the academic echo chamber and enter college much better prepared.