The term “gap year” has always connoted something bittersweet in the context of Indian schooling. It’s perfectly understandable to be paralysed by uncertainty and to feel hurt when you watch your peers enjoying college life. However, taking a gap year can also be thought of as “life-changing” in a good sense.

So, the crucial query becomes: Are they actually worthwhile?

The fifteen years of schooling are nonstop, from the daily coaching sessions to the long hours spent studying for college admission tests. Every student has been accompanied by weekly in-class assessments, assignments, home assignments, summer projects, and presentations since the young third grade. We are unaware of the burnout boiling behind all of this work, extracurricular activities, submissions, and deadlines. With the impending idea of the “right degree and the right college,” high school students face more difficult hurdles as they compete for the “perfect” score on entrance examinations, hunting for the “perfect” private coaching facility. The coaching centre then adds to the already enormous mountain of homework, exams, projects, and improbable demands.

Faced with the rapid pace of growing up and the steadily building burnout, most students lose touch with themselves and fall into the never-ending cycle of living up to other people’s expectations. Even professionals in their thirties and forties, such as doctors, lawyers, academics, businesspeople, and others, frequently exhibit the appearance of being disoriented ex-cons of some perplexing lifelong boot-camp. Some even claim that they chose their profession out of obligation to others or that they just happened to drift into it without stopping to consider if they truly enjoyed their employment. They frequently claim to have completely lost their youth because they never lived in the moment and were constantly focused on some vague future objective.

Hence, the question arises: is a gap year a solution to all of these problems?

Most likely, yeah. In order to ponder, “recreate” themselves without the constant pressure to succeed as an influence, and build up strength for the upcoming college years, students need plenty of free time. Long lectures, demanding curricula, deadlines, presentations, research papers, resumes, internships, and a seemingly never-ending struggle to achieve a balance between academics and career define a new period of our educational endeavours in college (not to mention cramping in campus societies as well).  A gap year gives a student this important amount of time to dedicate to themselves and carefully plan their future studies.

However, it is crucial to ask: how can one make a gap year useful?

Students have plenty of opportunities during a gap year to work, study, and travel. While most students lack the resources to travel or engage in such exotic pursuits, spending more time reading, keeping up with old friends, participating in small-scale internships, and developing new interests can also be beneficial. However, for both students and their parents, taking time off can be a terrifying concept. Students frequently wish to follow their companions down old and secure roads. Parents are concerned that their children will get distracted from college and may never join. Both worry that taking a break could cause pupils to “fall behind” or permanently lose their study skills. Yet, the advantages of a gap year typically outweigh the hazards, so there is rarely a need for concern. Many students believe that their gap years were a “life-altering” experience whose entire value will never be known and which will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Many students arrive at college with fresh ideas for their academic goals, extracurricular interests, the intangibles they intended to acquire there, and the career options they saw during their gap year.

Is then a year-long breather worth it after all?

Although the emphasis here has been on measures to reduce stress for today’s high-achieving generation, it is important to emphasise that the majority of kids are really prospering under pressure. The foundation of extraordinary accomplishments is never imitating the successes of others. More often than not, well-intentioned but mistaken parents strive to shape their kids into the kind of success they value, and since kids are so easily moulded, they readily accept the programme before they are old enough to make such decisions for themselves. The paradox is that the only way to truly succeed is to fully express who you are, to be successful in what you do, and to do it on your terms. Thus, the demands put on many kids unintentionally delay their ability to discover who they are and flourish on their own terms. We should all be able to admire Amartya Sen’s accomplishments in economics while also making our own, more modest strides in our respective disciplines and methods. Redefining success as the accomplishment of the student’s own goals, including those that are yet to be found, benefits both parents and kids. Burn-out is an inevitable result of trying to live up to alien goals. Time-out can promote discovery of one’s own passions.

Growing up today is a vastly different experience. While some families and students are suffering as a result of the hectic pace, others are coping but are not as happy with their life as they would like to be. Even the “happy warriors” of today’s ultra-competitive landscape, who are doing very well, run the risk of becoming less human as they struggle to meet what may be growingly unattainable demands.

The unfortunate truth still is that the world has traditionally characterised success as being characterised by high test scores, medal winners, and exam top scorers. However, it is always important to remember that graduation is not a race and life doesn’t always have to be competitive.

It’s okay to occasionally stand back, take a deep breath, look around, and live a little, just for you and your tiny being.

Trust me, it all ends up well 🙂

Read Also: The Home Conundrum, and the Battle of Graduating

Featured Image Credits: Fegans (Google Images)

Priyanka Mukherjee

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For a final semester student in DU, the idea of something known as the ‘gap year’ tends to induce feelings of uncertainty and disenchantment, with negative inertia attached to it. To-be graduates are ready to join career fields they are disinterested in, or are willing to settle for something less rewarding, just to ensure that they do not
end up like xyz senior who took a year off after college.

Right before writing this editorial, it took a long time for me to even accept this as a meandering, last-resort option.
A lot of people like me, who are just beginning to realise the bitter truths that come with the final year of college, are
accepting the possibility of taking gap years too. For most students in India, it becomes an unwelcome eventuality, but unlike what we observe here, there are individuals who deliberately take a year off after completing their undergraduate degree.
The reasons have been various, from giving another shot to entrance exams to exploring one’s hobbies and interests and aligning them with their preferred career path. Contrary to the popular perception here, gap years or gap semesters are actual programmes offered by universities abroad, which students are often encouraged to pursue.
Their sabbatical is usually after the secondary school or undergraduate level, and tends to be for seven to eight months.
Year or semester-long sabbaticals aren’t as prevalent in India, and the reason behind this doesn’t require an explanation. India’s conservatism and the inflexibility of the course curriculum in Indian colleges, where something as dynamic as this can help students regain their composure, could never take flight. Colleges in the U.S and U.K offer numerous opportunities for students to intern, travel, and sign up for freelance work, owing to the program’s ability to be extended up to four years. Not only does this sojourn rejuvenate and offer new perspectives to preconceived notions, but it also presents plenty of time for a student to join part-time or additional courses, (offline or online) to gain value addition and branch out into a specific career of their choice.
Despite having umpteen pros, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed. While most post-graduate schools in India do not directly discriminate between regular freshers and the students who take gap years, people believe that their gap year somehow creeps up into personal interview rounds. In response to this concern, it is certainly problematic if a fresher takes a gap year for frivolous reasons. However, if you are able to substantiate and explain to the interviewers about your decision with proper logic and count down the knowledge addition through
add-on courses or internships at a startup or an NGO that you did, it can probably even place you far ahead of other candidates. These students are not as heavily penalised as before, and it’s becoming increasingly common because of the fewer jobs being generated in the economy. If your CV is impressive, your personality is convincing, and your skills match with the job/programme requirements, there’s little to stop you from grabbing that job/getting into that university. Berating yourself because of what comment that far-off relative made with regards to your decision would never help; we’re all headed in different directions at the end of the day.

Vijeata Balani
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