Why a Gap Year (or Two) Was the Right Decision for Me

If you have a recent or soon-to-be graduate who is considering taking time off before making a decision about pursuing a higher education or career training, then check out what our guest blogger and homeschool graduate, Claire Smiddy, has to share about her experience.

I don’t know about you, but high school left me burnt out and looking for more than just papers to be written and homework to be turned in. When I first told others that I would be pursuing something other than a college diploma after high school, I got many “Oh yay, good for you!” responses but also a few skeptical looks. I didn’t follow the academic train out of the building, but I didn’t get left behind!

Based on a survey by the American Gap Association, 96% of study participants noted that taking a gap year helped them develop as a person, whereas 84% of participants said it helped them acquire skills to be successful in their career (“National Alumni Survey Report,” American Gap Association, 2015). I absolutely agree! Over the course of two years, I have had multiple leadership opportunities, more new and exciting experiences than I can count, and lots of trial and error under my belt.

Claire Smiddy 250The summer after high school graduation (2017), I drove over one thousand miles to live in Granby, Colorado, at the YMCA of the Rockies-Snow Mountain Ranch. There I participated in the TREK gap year program working in food service, but get this...my part time job was dog sledding!! I was a musher (sled driver) on a dog sled team. As well as that, I made many friends from all over the world, such as Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Malaysia, France, and many other countries. I got to experience living in a mountain town (you think driving in the snow is hard where you live, try in the mountains!), I went to the X Games, visited Rocky Mountain National Park in my free time, and learned to coexist amongst many different cultures. I’m not sure mountain town life is for me, but I am so thankful I was able to grow there.

In May 2018 I visited home for a month, and then in June I moved back out to Pueblo West, Colorado. There I lived with some of my favorite people, Chris and Elizabeth. They were such a blessing and opened their home to me. During this time, I worked a full-time job, spent my days off hiking in the mountains, and traveled around my favorite state. I was given more responsibility at my job, and I gained more insight to my future career.

As of June 2019, I am now back in Ohio reflecting on how I’ve grown the past two years. Just one year ago I wanted to get my degree to become a Park Ranger for the National Forest Service, but I’ve now discovered a different interest path. I am currently enrolled at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College for the fall semester in the ITP (Interpreter Training Program) for American Sign Language. Why the switch, you ask? With everything I’ve learned and seen over this break from school, I decided that my first career choice right out of high school wasn’t the best fit for me, and I began revisiting a skill I had studied in high school – American Sign Language. I now have more drive and anticipation to work towards my new career choice than ever!

Overall, a gap year is a good decision for anyone who wants to take a break from academics and figure out who they are as a person. It has really broadened my horizons in allowing me to learn from different cultures, find a career path I am excited about, increased my self-confidence, helped me grow in maturity, and taught me how to live with those from different backgrounds.

Anyone who might be interested in investigating gap years further may find the following links helpful:

Gap Year Association - Gap Year Data & Benefits

Gap Year Basics: How Taking a Year Off Increases the Ceiling for Students

TREK Gap Program at the YMCA of the Rockies

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Claire Smiddy is a homeschool graduate, adventurer, nature lover and enjoys hiking in her free time.  She is currently the Catering Director at Chick-fil-a and will be attending Cincinnati State Technical and Community College this fall in the Interpreter Training Program (ITP).