Not many students opt to take academic gaps in the middle of their college career. Many don’t even know it’s an option to start with and others view it as something that shouldn’t be done unless it’s absolutely necessary. To be honest, I never even really had any idea what kind of implications an academic gap had as a student before it dawned on me that I would have to take a gap for two years.
There were two sides to this story. On one hand, it didn’t seem to be a big deal; I would ask for an academic leave of absence from the University, serve my two years, and come back after. On the other hand, leaving for two years meant that I would be leaving my fellow peers behind and come back to realize that most of my friends would have already graduated or would have left for other opportunities.
Besides that, it also meant I would start whatever I chose to pursue two years behind everyone else (big picture, really not a big deal) which felt huge to me at the time. I’ve always felt the general consensus among us college students is to do our four years and move on so we can start making an impact in society, in whatever form that may be.
But here’s the kicker—taking that academic gap was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Moving away from the fact that I spent those two years in the military, the gap I took was important to help me put the things I was doing in perspective. Here are some things I learned from taking a break (not necessarily from what I was doing during it.
1. Emphasize the why, not the what
I started to put more emphasis on why I was doing things rather than what I was doing, much more so than I did before my gap. When I was a freshman, I always thought I had to do the things everyone else did, what everyone else considered to be a success. However, taking a break really helped me put things in perspective and helped me to realize that time is the most valuable commodity. I needed to spend it doing something I felt was valuable.
2. Relearn the purpose of education
I began to understand for myself why my education was valuable and really started to try to learn from all of my classes, rather than obsess with my GPA. After not studying for two years, I began to realize that my education was not all reflective of a single number. I wanted to really understand what I was learning in class for myself, not for whatever grade I would receive. If you try to really understand the content, most of the time the grades will naturally follow, but not necessarily the other way around.
3. Pace yourself
I came back from the gap feeling mentally and emotionally refreshed and was rearing to go from the get-go. College can be a tough and stressful time; certain students handle it better than others, but everyone can benefit from a longer break. Four years is a long time, and you certainly don’t want to burn out before you graduate.
I recognize that the academic gap wasn’t a decision I made for myself. I had very little choice in it, but I still found a lot of merit in taking a break. No matter what anyone says, there is value in taking time to discover yourself in an environment that is different from the one you’re in now. Be open and honest with yourself—you never know what life has in store for you!