My hope is that you will at least consider, just for a moment, taking a gap year (read on for details). If you are a member of the Class of 2011 and would like to request a one-year (or sometimes two-year) deferral from starting at MIT, you can send a letter outlining your plans to our office:
Office of Admissions
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 3-108
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
We will grant a deferral for almost any reason. Come up with somewhat of a plan, and you’ll probably be fine. Some members of the Class of 2011 are deferring to spend a year in Israel, others to do intensive music study. What you do is up to you.
So you got into one of the best, most stimulating and resource-rich universities in the world. Welcome – MIT’s an amazing place (no matter what you’re here to study), and I bet you’re really eager to come – not just for Campus Preview Weekend, but to start your academic and life voyage as a freshman this fall semester. You’re probably already planning your summer, the changes from home to college … what to bring, how you’ll spend those last days with friends and family, perhaps visiting your favorite childhood haunts in a last bid to say goodbye. But what if you held off on all that?
Sounds crazy, right? – because you want to get away from your parents as soon as possible, start your own life, and not be told when to go to bed and what not to eat… well, whatever the reason, college is a way to leave home that’s accepted by both your friends and your folks (no matter how conservative), and you’re all ready to GO. It feels like the “right thing to do,” because after high school, don’t all good students go to college? And besides, what else would you do to prepare for that promising future you’ve always dreamed of (and, no doubt, the one everyone *expects* you to have)?
Let me ask you something else: if you had an entire year to do anything you want, with unlimited time, no expectations, no SATs or class ranks or gossip or student club presidencies to get in the way… what would you do? Let’s just pretend that after you graduate, instead of just returning to school in the fall, you finally get to work on that dream project, tinker in that lab, or spend a year overseas (all expenses paid) teaching something you know and learning everything you never knew all at the very same time. And you’d wake up every day knowing that MIT’s just down the road.
A couple years back, the Associated Press has a nice story about “gap years” that was picked up by news organizations across the country. Since two years have passed, you’ll have to visit an archive to read the full story, but I’ve pulled out some choice quotes below for comment.
Many college admissions officers support the idea [of deferring admission for a year or two]. While cautioning that a “gap year” between high school and college isn’t for everyone — and that just goofing off isn’t worthwhile — they say many students who take one return more confident and self-aware. […]
Generally, schools make students submit a proposal beyond “lying on the beach,” but often little more is required. The University of Chicago says it will grant deferrals for almost any reason as long as students don’t apply elsewhere.
“It’s reached the point where a lot of us in admissions are talking about ways to get students to just kind of relax,” said Martha Merrill, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College.
We at MIT are among those college admissions officers who are supportive of students taking a gap year. And, like the University of Chicago (and many other schools), we’re happy to grant deferrals to most any proposal you might have. Also, we agree with Connecticut College’s Martha Merrill — as you’ve probably read on these blogs, we’re quite interested in finding ways of making college admissions and the high school to college transition less stressful and frenzied.
“Gap year” is a bit of a loaded term, I think, with images of British aristocracy vacationing in the south of France coming to mind. But during my years in admissions, I’ve seen students take some time before starting MIT for many great reasons. For example, one of my favorite students spent a year as an EMT in Israel before his freshman year. This gave him a lot of perspective on the world, and when he got his first bad grade at MIT, he knew that it wasn’t a disaster, but rather an indication that he might want to reexamine his study habits and try a little harder next time. No crisis. Ultimately, his impact on MIT and the students around him was great, and his mentorship, with the help of his gap year’s perspective, was invaluable to many students here.
The article also addresses the different kinds of gap years:
Gap years need not be a luxury for the rich. Some students use them to earn money for school. Many programs offer scholarships or compensation for labor; AmeriCorps offers a living allowance and education funding. Reardon says anyone would be hard-pressed during a gap year to spend the $30,000 or more many of them would be paying for college.
I’m not writing to say that all students should take some time off before starting college. But I do think that there is a bit of a stigma about such plans in many areas of the country, a stigma that should be eliminated. The AP writes:
In the United States, however, experts say the increasing stress of college admissions makes parents nervous about any kind of unusual path. “These are families that somehow see this as not part of the grand plan,” said Gail Reardon, who founded a Boston company, Taking Off, that helps students plan gap years. Adds Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania: “Not wanting to break stride is the American way.” […] “I don’t think there’s any rational explanation to just run to college,” [Gerrit Lansing, a student who took a gap year] said. “There’s no reason. It’s just what everyone does.”
Yesterday, my friend Shaun over at the blog The International Counselor did a gap year entry, focusing on an extraordinary gap year tale about a future Stanford student:
Parents often worry about kids taking a year off between high school and college. My parents worried when I announced that I was moving to Australia for a year. They feared I would never go to university (I did) nor return home (I did, at least for a time before itchy feet got me moving). Taking a gap year is a wonderful opportunity to focus on something important to you. Take Samantha Larson. Stanford happily deferred her admission for a year. Her plan: Climb Chomolungma also known as Mt. Everest. And she did. Not only that. She became the youngest person to completed the seven summits challenge–summiting the highest peak on each of the seven continents.
Some of you who attended Campus Preview Weekend may have attended our panel discussion on gap years, featuring four MIT students who have done it (including Anthony). My take away was this:
No one ever regrets having taken a gap year, but plenty of people regret not having taken one.
The bottom line here is that it is okay to slow down. Life, college, career — it’s not a race. Feel free to write me if you need more information about taking a gap year, I’m happy to help.