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MIT student blogger Anthony R. '09

MIT, You Make Me Wanna Wait! by Anthony R. '09

Between high school and MIT, I took two years to travel and work as a corporate software developer. Others lived in Japan, worked with children in Africa, or tinkered with their dream projects back home. Learn more about why MIT endorses it!

(Come to the 3rd floor of the Student Center at 12 noon on Friday of CPW. There will be several of us, including a MIT professor, talking about why this can be a really good idea.)

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.

Maybe you just want to spend time working to have some cash during your college years. Or maybe you just want to decompress after the rigorous academic program that got you into MIT in the first place. The sky is the limit, and odds are, you’ll never have the chance to be so free ever again in your life. So what’s the rush? It’s not like you wouldn’t be going to MIT. You’d just be hanging out for a few more months to get a better handle on what you’re really coming here for.

This might sound just a bit surprising, but I’m willing to bet that in that year off, you’ll learn more than you ever would as a college freshman. No, perhaps you wouldn’t be sitting in a classroom, but you’d be doing a ton of that “other” kind of learning – the learning that helps you figure out where you’re going, who you are as a person, and what you were put on this earth to do. It’s a fact that a lot of people here change their majors – heck, maybe several times – because they just aren’t sure what they want to do. Taking time away from school can help you be better prepared for these kinds of decisions – you’ll likely arrive on campus a more confident and prepared individual, with some time away from HS to really think about what you want out of life. Are you really sure that you want to be a doctor, or an engineer, or whatever it is that you’ve got your heart set on right now? Do parents, family or friends suggest that you be one thing, yet you’d really prefer to be something else? (Why not take some time to sort it out, spending time in hospitals, labs, or perhaps as an intern at a nearby firm?)

No, taking a breather after high school isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you qualify for full financial aid (your family’s tuition contribution is zero) at MIT, it may well cost you less to come straight away and get a head start on your degree. (For the vast majority, that’s not the case, and your year off would likely be far less of a financial undertaking than a year of college.) In my case, I took two years off and arrived on campus with a lot of perspective, but had to spend time getting back into the student mindset so I could put in the kind of effort it takes to succeed in classes here. Things are great now that I’ve had some time to adjust – I’m very glad I took the time I did, and I don’t have any regrets. I’m a far more directed, focused person than I would have been, and I’ve got a better idea of what I want from MIT than (dare I say) a whole lot of my classmates. I came from a rural area where education wasn’t especially valued, and I never gave a passing thought to university admissions as a high school student. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I really began to investigate anything about college!

MIT endorses the taking of “gap years” because of the unique opportunity to gain purpose and personal enrichment like you’ll never be able to during a full-time academic term. Sure, college is an amazing place to be, and lots of exciting things happen here, but there’s far more to life and the world than your university campus. It has always been helpful for me to keep that in mind, especially when things get rough, because I just bounce back and march on. And I feel like I’m getting a lot more out of this place because of it!

Come talk to me and fellow students, as well as a MIT professor, during CPW – we’ll be having a Gap Year Panel on Friday at 12 noon in the Student Center, 3rd floor, Private Dining Rooms 1 & 2. Parents are warmly welcomed and encouraged to come too!

29 responses to “MIT, You Make Me Wanna Wait!”

  1. I ll finish A levels in november this year and will only start uni next year september. But I don’t know what to do and who to talk to>>>…

    Ankit Chandra
    Gaborone, Botswana

  2. milena '11 says:

    I had actually never considered this! I don’t know if it’s for me — I love going to school, and being away from it for more than a month is hell!! But traveling for a year does seem interesting…

    You’ll (probably) see me there on Friday :D (if I’m not sleeping lol)

  3. Sh1fty says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot too. I actually kinda hope that MIT will reject me the first time I apply. I’d definitely prefer to get in, but still, I’d like to have enough time to work on my projects, travel around Europe if I don’t do it this summer, earn some money, gain some new friends,… oh, and if they do reject me I might have to spend 6 months in the army, but I’m kinda looking forward to it. I don’t worry much about getting in, because I intend to apply every year until I get in :D There’s a saying in Tibet: If a problem can be solved there is no use worrying about it. If it can’t be solved, worrying will do no good. smile have fun at CPW wink

  4. Daniel '12 says:

    I’ve already requested deferral (hence the name). I will have spent four years in the Navy before attending MIT, and I hope to co-author a book by then as well. My experience has definitely given me perspective and confirmed what I want to do with the rest of my life.

  5. Kari says:

    Thank you so much for addressing this!

    I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and everyone I talk to about it has a different opinion. One question: Do you think that deferring enrollment is better than taking a break during college?

  6. Anthony says:

    Hi Kari,

    Personally, yes, I do believe it’s better to do it before, rather than during. Once you’re here at MIT, you’ll get involved in ongoing projects, research, UROPs, friendships and activities, and taking some time away could be pretty disruptive to that. If you do it right after HS, you’re already in the mindset of having just completed something, and it would be more natural… It’s not like I don’t know of anyone who has taken a term or year off here, but it’s pretty uncommon. Once you’re here, you get into stuff that you really don’t want to put down — though the summers and IAP (January periods) are good for taking internships or other time away from MIT if you so choose. grin

  7. Charlotte says:

    How exactly did your gap years enable you to find your direction in life? Could you elaborate more on the details of your personal experience?

    Well, I thought hard about it and concluded that life can do with a little trivial fun sometimes, so…

    1st post.

  8. Kari says:

    Thanks.

    I’ll try to come to the meeting to get the rest of my questions answered, but one important one is how did you adjust to being 2 years older/more mature than the rest of your classmates?

  9. Charlotte says:

    Quote:”Well, I thought hard about it and concluded that life can do with a little trivial fun sometimes, so…

    1st post.”

    Wait a bit…. I give that to Kari.

  10. Reg says:

    is this a post on GAP YEAR i’m seeing? O___O

  11. Kari says:

    That’s right.

    It took a lot not to mention it. I was just so proud of having a relevant first post. But now that it’s not the first post I don’t mind being trivially fun and irrelevant:
    bahaha I got first post! not you. me.

  12. Charlotte says:

    “how did you adjust to being 2 years older/more mature than the rest of your classmates?”

    –Actually, for one thing, there are already male international students who have to serve in the military in their home countries for some years before they could enroll in MIT. So one need not like you are the solitary old freak around.

  13. Kari says:

    mmm…
    older, international males! My favorite.
    I’m not kidding.

  14. Charlotte says:

    “how did you adjust to being 2 years older/more mature than the rest of your classmates?”

    –Actually, for one thing, there are already male international students who have to serve in the military in their home countries for some years before they could enroll in MIT. So one need not feel like he/she is the solitary old freak around.

  15. Charlotte says:

    But come to think of it, this is college, not high school anymore. You can expect to attend the same class with people of different ages-freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors-in fact, even graduate students in their 30s! So why would age be an issue, especially when you’re just two years older?

  16. Vytautas says:

    Hey, Sh1fty, I’ll be doing same crazy thing. Year after year until I get in. But I would prefer going to MIT straight ahead instead of spending whole year off.

  17. Anthony says:

    I graduated when I was 16, so I came in right on time… but as far as those who came in and are older – yes, there are a number who served in their national militaries (commonly places like Israel or Singapore)…

    As far as being more mature than the others coming in… luckily, the dorms are all mixed-year and you have a chance to hang out with the group/year of students which best fits your own level of personal development. Even though I was 18 like the other freshmen when I got here, I felt a bit older because I’d grown up with kids 2-3 years older in school ever since I was little, and I guess that’s the age group I associated myself with. You might say that I hit it off best with upperclassmen when I first arrived – but now, a year later, those in my class have basically caught up smile

    If you want more personal perspective on this, feel free to email me or chat during CPW… I could write a book on it raspberry

  18. Charlotte says:

    And then there’re different kinds of ages, among them, the physical age and the mental age. You may be 19 but act and behave like you’ve just been born nine years ago. In that case, you are better off taking two years off and coming back as a 21 year-old full-fledged adult, so that you’ll make the most out of MIT and MIT will get the most out of you.

  19. Anthony says:

    Charlotte,

    Because I was young for my grade, I had always thought that I’d wait until the “usual age” for college. None of my friends or classmates were going to university, and my school didn’t offer the PSAT, SAT, or any college counseling. So I guess I always thought I’d figure everything out later on.

    I’d been into computers since like preschool, so I just assumed I’d study computer science in college. It turned out that, after working with computers for a few years and getting a lot of experience with various people and projects, I realized my true passion lies in what I was using computers to do, not just computers themselves. So now I’m studying transportation stuff, and really loving it. In that way, the time off helped me really figure out what I’m here for.

    There were also a lot of personal benefits, like the perspective you get when you’re out of the whole HS cocoon, or getting a head start on being responsibly independent and learning to see my parents as my new best friends (as opposed to ultimate authority figures).

    It’s hard to sum this all up, but again, if there’s a specific part of this you want more on, just let me know smile

  20. Melissa '11 says:

    I’ve been thinking about this, actually. What should I consider to decide?

    I’ll definitely see you guys Friday! I’m so excited!

  21. Anthony says:

    Hi Melissa!

    Well, for starters, have you ever thought about what you would do, given
    unlimited time to do it? Some kind of fun project, or maybe just
    catching up on lots of reading, or perhaps you’ve got some kind of world
    domination plan all worked out that you just need a few months of free
    time to execute? wink

    Maybe you just want to take some time to dabble in a couple of types of
    work (as an intern, or even just at your desk or in the library) to
    really see which of a few things you enjoy the most, and might want to
    focus on at MIT?

    Maybe you just want to see the world — there are a number of
    scholarship programs (like through the Rotary organization, for example)
    that support students who want to take a year abroad, staying with host
    families while teaching kids during the weekdays.

    It’s really up to you, but just think — what awesomeness could you do
    in a year’s time of *no school*? grin

  22. Karen says:

    Hello everyone, from a current gap-yearer (Rotary, Taiwan)!

    All I can say is DO IT. It’s worth it. You won’t regret it. It’ll change your life. And it’ll be fun. ANd realaxing. And eye-opening. Etc etc. And if you’re suffering from ANY sort of burn-out after senior year, it’ll be gone by the time you go to school. As much as you may be looking forward to it (and even prepared for it) now, it’ll be 100 times better once you take a year off.

  23. Anthony,

    Thanks for your very useful and informative post!
    My son is 16 years old and we live in Eastern Europe. We consider one year off very seriously. But we did not find any information on formalities. And my son will not be at CPW. How can we contact you to get more information?

    Thank you in advance.

  24. Vytautas says:

    Hey Mom of admitted student, I’m also from Eastern Europe(actually it’s the geographical center, but people call it Eastern), and I’m also 16 years old, but I’m applying next year. I would like to contact you or your son and ask some questions. Could you help me?

  25. Vytautas says:

    Ah, I forgot my email smile
    brain5ide-at-gmail-dot-com

  26. YG says:

    “college is a way to leave home that’s accepted by both your friends and your folks (no matter how conservative)”

    I found this statement so true!

  27. Anthony says:

    Hi Mom of admitted student,

    You can send an email to [email protected] – I believe you just need to send a letter outlining your plan for the year off, and then they will reply with further instructions.

  28. Sh1fty says:

    It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one :D

  29. John Eastman says:

    I have been working with gap year students for ten years and in that time have never seen the experience be anything but 100% positive. I currently serve as Executive Director of Global LAB (www.global-lab.org), a non-profit which specializes in small group gap semesters to India, China, Japan, Morocco, and elsewhere. But international travel isn’t necessary to make taking time for yourself valuable. As long as the time is carefully considered and well planned, students inevitably return with a degree of maturity and recharged hunger for learning that makes their college experience meaningful from day one. I wish I’d done it, as my freshman year in college was a blurred cocktail (so to speak) of confusion and relative immaturity. Some of the most highly regarded independent gap year advisors around are based in, or have offices in, Boston. See http://www.takingoff.net and http://www.interimprograms.com.

    Good luck and go for it!

    John