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!