Transitioning from a Gap Year to College (Part 2)

by Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of 2022

Anna and Alex, one of her best friends from her gap year, reaching the peak of Wind River Range

While my transition to college definitely had its challenges, my gap year really helped with a number of things. First of all, the prospect of living with a roommate during my freshman year was far less daunting after living with thirteen people on my gap year. During the entire 9 month gap year program, I only had my own room for one week. I had 1-4 roommates the rest of the time. I learned how to live with others — through the best and the worst. While this was a challenging component of my gap year, it set me up for success in college. I was more confident about maintaining a positive relationship with my roommate, and we became good friends.
Another huge transition for all college freshmen is the level of independence they’re granted. So many students go from living at home with parental boundaries and a curfew to living in the dorms with very few rules. My gap year gave me some level of independence that was in between these two, which taught me how I can most effectively manage and plan my own time. This is an invaluable skill in college, and allowed me to balance my academics with extracurriculars, my social life, and even sleep (yes – I got about 7-8 hours every night!). So many college students say they have to compromise; if they want a good social life, their grades have to suffer, or if they want good grades, they have to settle for 5 hours of sleep. The reality is that there’s a balance and the key is learning how you plan best. On my gap year, I learned that I like to have a schedule and hold myself to things by being accountable to myself. I then applied this to my lifestyle in college, which set me up to handle my independence responsibly.
There were also a couple things that were surprising about the transition from my gap year to college. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I was terrified on the first day of school; so nervous to make new friends or that I’d embarrass myself in class. The reality is that I developed strong interpersonal skills on my gap year and as a result it made my transition better. By my second week at school, I realized I didn’t have to worry so much.  Sometimes I look back on graduating from high school and wonder what would have happened if I went to college without a gap year. I know myself much better after my gap year, and I know things would have been much rockier. I am a different, better, and more mature person as a result of my gap year, which definitely helped the transition.

One of Anna’s pictures taken near Venice, Italy during photography class

Students who have taken gap years experience things that their freshman peers do not — they mature, gain experience, solve problems, see parts of the world, and often live away from home for the first time. Many gappers arrive on campus at a different level of maturity and engagement, which I like to call a “double-edged sword.” While this maturity benefited me in the classroom and my GPA, in some ways it hindered me socially. I had a more difficult time making friends during the first semester because I felt so many fellow freshmen were immature. But after some misses with friends in the first semester, I discovered the type of people I wanted to be friends with, and I have made good friends including some students at Babson who also took gap years.
In conclusion, everyone’s transition from a gap year to college will be different, and it will be challenging one way or the other. And that’s okay. My biggest piece of advice is to first focus on finding the gap year that is the best fit for you. From there, you can leverage your newfound skills and experiences to thrive in college. Don’t expect college to be easy just because you took a gap year, but also don’t lose sight of who you have become as a result of your year away from school.

Anna and her Babson friends after a great Freshman year!

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