Ready, Set, Don't Go

Hello. You don’t even go here (yet) and you’re snooping around the school newspaper. Yes, I’m talking to you, newly admitted Harvard students. Thank you for taking the time away from stalking people from the Class of 2020 Facebook page to read this.

Every year The Crimson runs some variation of the “come to Harvard” op-ed and for good reason. It’s good advice. Harvard College is a unique, exciting place. You should enroll and experience it for yourself.

But first, you should take a gap year.

This isn’t novel advice. In fact, just last week, Abigail Falik published an article in The New York Times making the same argument.

Falik delineates some of American higher education’s “costs,” which include far more than just the high tuition rates. With homogeneous student bodies, opaque admissions processes and even the chance of catching mumps (at least, if you’re heart is set on Cambridge), there are no shortage of problems to innumerate and there is little students can do to fix them. But Falik argues, and rightly so, that there is one thing we, as students, can control: our readiness for college.

Throughout the college process, my parents did not push the idea of a gap year, but they did leave the option wide open. After visiting a campus, for instance, my dad might ask, “can you imagine yourself here next year… or, you know, the year after that?”

I was not amused. The thought of planning what I would do for the next 365 days, on top of slogging through the usual college process, seemed unbearable. I walked across the stage at my high school graduation fully intending to move into the Yard a few months later. I had taken my placement exams (ugh), filled out the rooming survey (eek) and signed up for FOP (DO IT)!

But I was truly apathetic about what was coming my way and absolutely petrified by the shenanigans in the class of 2017 Facebook page. Instead of googling for bedspreads that would match my future roommates’ décor, I was searching for things I could feasibly do with my time if I weren’t to go straight to school.

When I finally wrote Harvard over July 4th weekend asking to defer my enrollment, all I knew was that there was an outdoors center in New Zealand that took volunteers in exchange for room and board. I figured I would sort the rest out later.

And I did. And I could go on and on about the skills I learned, the friends I made, and the places I went.

But this article isn’t about why a gap year was right for me. It’s about why it is right for you, regardless of who you are exactly.

Peruse the Internet for information on gap years and you’ll get a plethora of results touting their benefits. And yet, it’s easy to feel a disconnect. After all, it’s hard to imagine how your expected Harvard GPA could possibly go up by .1 to .4 points after taking a gap year, given the infamous grade inflation. And you might not be inclined to read beyond the title of Dean Fitzsimmon’s article, included in your admissions packet, regarding “burnout,” if you’re one of those seniors who are sailing through senior spring.

But if you look closely, you’ll find that many arguments for taking a gap year are universal. The authors of The Gap Year Advantage found that one of the most highly rated outcomes that gap year students report is gaining a better sense of who they are. In a survey conducted by The American Gap Association, 97% of respondents reported that their gap year increased their maturity and 96% reported that it increased their confidence.

If expensive eurotrips and costly programs comprise your current conception of gap years, you may also be inclined to dismiss them for being outside your means. But few, if any, statistics specify different outcomes depending on what students did during their gap years or how much money they spent. That’s probably because it doesn’t matter. Whether you stay at home and work, hike the Pacific Coast Trail, or volunteer for City Year, your gap year can be a valuable experience—as long as you're doing something you want to be doing.

This article (and many others out there like it) is not saying a gap year will solve all your problems. It’s also not saying that if you don’t take a gap year, you will be doomed to fail. There will be nights you are stressed whether you are in the class of 2020 or 2021. There will be days when you are sad at Harvard—like when it snows on April 4th—regardless of whether you defer. But taking a gap year can’t hurt your ability to handle the curveballs. It won’t make you less prepared to take advantage of all the things that make choosing Harvard such a good idea. In fact, it will probably do the opposite.

So, welcome to Harvard! If you’re coming to Visitas, enjoy! And then, get the heck out of here and join the class of 2021.


Leni M.G. Hirsch ’18, a Crimson editorial writer, is a History and Science concentrator living in Pforzheimer House.

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