During my sophomore year of college, I felt utterly lost because I could not commit to a major and received mostly Bs. Needless to say, I had a significant breakdown and began to think about a gap semester. It was the toughest decision I had to make in college.
Compared to most of my peers, I started college quite late (at the age of 20) because my family had recently moved to the US. I was scared to fall behind, graduate late, and waste my time. I spent my summer after my sophomore year learning about myself and eventually knew that a gap semester was crucial to my career. If you are in my shoes, here are my tips for a fulfilling gap semester/gap year.
Talk to your support groups
My parents were not very happy with my decision to take a gap semester. They worked 12-hour shifts every day to make sure that I could focus solely on studying and developing my career. I was always grateful for their hardships but knew that college was not about figuring out who I was and what I wanted. I needed more time to determine my career. However, I didn’t want to burden my parents financially when I went home for my gap semester. I asked for advice from many professors, friends, and colleagues. My friend’s father had told me: “Your career will be 20 or 30 years of your life. Spending one year to try out new things is not a waste. At the end of the day, it will be only one short period, compared to 60 years of your life.” It was then I decided to take a gap semester.
Do not afraid of change. If the thought of taking a gap semester ever slips through your mind, it is always good to share that with your family and friends. People need to take time off from school for all sorts of reasons (mental health, careers, family issues, etc.) You are not the only one, and we are all in this together.
Make a bucket list
My worst fear about gap year was that I wouldn’t find anything to do with my time. I was a workaholic and enjoyed being surrounded by people. Taking a gap year would mean that I had to live very far away from my college friends and stay home for the majority of the time. I was terrified. One day, I decided to make a bucket list of what I wanted to do with my time. I had never actually put enough time into figuring out about my hobbies before because I was always hanging out with my friends in my free time. I finally tried new things that I never had the time to enjoy while in school. I traveled to different states to explore hiking, food, and sightseeing. I also made a plan to visit Vietnam with my partner for more than a month and took some swimming classes. I learned to reflect after every new experience and appreciate my alone time more. None of these things would be possible if I was at school and took classes only.
A gap year may be one of the very few times you can try out and enjoy new things. You will not have that much time to enjoy yourself if you are at school or have a full-time job after college. Learning to enjoy yourself is a skill, and you can only get further in your life when you have genuinely immersed yourself in your gap year.
Get a part-time job
I did not have the luxury of having my family support me financially during my gap year. I spent four months applying to different companies for co-ops and internships to prepare for my gap year. I received at least 70 rejection letters and began to doubt my abilities. Unfortunately, my current college did not have the resources to support students during their gap year, so I was pretty much alone in this process. I decided to challenge myself with any part-time job I could search for on LinkedIn or at local coffee shops. At the end of my summer, I got a call back from Vertex Pharmaceuticals for a co-op position.
If you are first-gen and from an immigrant family, I understand your struggles. It is never an easy task to leave school temporarily and contribute nothing to your family’s finances. Don’t be afraid to work part-time in a local Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or Whole Foods. Working can alleviate your stress about finances. More importantly, it can fund any travel trips or classes you decide to take during your gap year.
Be open; let yourself have time to be vulnerable and love yourself more every day. You are not the only one on this journey.
WRITTEN BY Khanh Pham Boston College
Khanh is a junior studying Econometrics and Biology at Boston College. She also works for Macmillan Learning as a student ambassador. When not studying, you can most likely find her somewhere in Downtown Boston trying out new bubble tea flavor and eating Pho noodles.