I left college for a gap year—and learned why I had to go back

There's a common perception about students who have the means to attend college full-time but choose to take time off first—and it's generally not positive. 

People view gap years as luxury vacations only the most well-off students can afford, or else view the decision to stop out of school and return later a sign of laziness. 

Many people criticized Malia Obama when she took a gap year

But the freelance writer and gap-year beneficiary Kyle DeNuccio argues the opposite. Gap years aren't an indicator of apathy, DeNuccio believes—they're the cure for it.

DeNuccio was enrolled full-time in his freshman year with his parents paying his tuition and supporting his lifestyle when apathy hit him hard.

Describing his first year of college as "lackluster," DeNuccio recalls how he found little motivation to perform above the lowest possible passing grades and failed to find himself drawn to any particular academic path.

So DeNuccio got permission from his school to take a year off, with the expectation that he would return to finish his degree afterward. His parents, as DeNuccio expected, did not support his decision and therefore determined they would not support him financially during the year off school.

Though he struggled at first, DeNuccio was grateful for the financial independence during his gap year. He specifies that he did not participate in any sort of structured, semi-educational vacation run by a special gap-year organization.

Instead, he got an unpaid internship followed by two consecutive part-time jobs, the latter of which was working in a kitchen in Puerto Rico.

DeNuccio says that throughout the course of his gap year, he learned, among other things:

  • How difficult it is to be perceived as dumb for not being fluent in another's language—and how English speakers in the United States are guilty of this without even knowing it;
  • How important it is for young adults whose parents have the means to support them financially to actually cut themselves off from the support, not the other way around;
  • What it's really like to live with the burden of assuming debt;  and
  • What it really meant to take a college education for granted.

While on his gap year, DeNuccio realized his passion for writing. When he returned to school the following year, he majored in English and prepared for a career in writing. DeNuccio says he was a better student when he returned, earning higher grades, drinking less alcohol, and learning to value education for its own sake. He even graduated a semester earlier than he was scheduled to.

But DeNuccio hesitates to recommend his gap year as a formula for achieving success. He reflects that if he had chased the personal benefits from the outset, he probably wouldn't have been able to achieve them (DeNuccio, New York Times, 4/6).

What success means to your students, in their own words

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