Interview with Lucia Poggi (UChicago ’23)

Interview by Anna Nickerson

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Photo: Lucia (left) on the campaign trail in Northern Virginia!

It is a common misconception that in order to take a gap year, you must travel abroad extensively. Many students choose to forgo travel-based programs and focus on other opportunities, such as Gapper Lucia Poggi. Lucia just finished up her gap year, which consisted of career-centered work in the U.S. as well as independent travel. Gap Year Solutions recently spoke with Lucia and asked her about her year. Lucia’s experience serves as an important example that not all gap years are “One Size Fits All.” Independently planned gap years take time and careful attention to plan. Keep reading to learn more about Lucia’s gap year and the advice she has for potential gappers!

Tell me about yourself and your gap year.

I am from Richmond, Virginia and I went to the Hotchkiss School, a boarding school in Connecticut. I deferred my admission from the University of Chicago in order to take a gap year that combined some of my interests. I am really interested in political campaigning, so I wanted this to be a big part of my gap year.

Originally my parents were actually open to the idea of a gap year, but they didn’t want me to do a program. They felt that because I’m now an adult, I should plan my own experience and live where I want. When I started planning my year, the timing worked out perfectly because it was during midterms season. I worked in Northern Virginia on a political campaign for someone aspiring to be in the House of Representatives, 10th district. I wanted to do some resume-building and get real work experience in political campaigning. I lived in a house with fellow Hotchkiss alumni, whom I found through our alumni app.

In the Spring, I traveled to Bonair, a small Dutch island in the Carribbean. I lived and worked there for 3 months. 3 days out of the week, I volunteered for a turtle conservation organization and during the rest of the week, I waited tables at a local restaurant. I also did a lot of scuba diving, which was great.

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Photo: Lucia and friends scuba diving in Bonaire

What skills do you think you learned on your gap year?

I think the work experience in political campaigning provided me with a lot of professional skills. More specifically, I learned how to structure and organize my time during my entire gap year. One big challenge I had was that the elections ended in Mid-November, but I didn’t go to Bonaire until January. This left me with a couple months of unstructured time, so I wish I had maybe been more productive during those months in Richmond.

I also learned how to live alone and with fewer people than I’m used to. At Hotchkiss, I was constantly surrounded by friends, roommates, and my classmates. There was always an opportunity to be around other people, but my gap year forced me to be with only a few people or even by myself. As an extrovert, I think this was a really important skill for me to learn especially in preparation for college.

How did Hotchkiss support you in your decision to take a gap year?

 Hotchkiss was very supportive and encouraging of my decision to take a gap year, among other students who also chose that path. Out of my graduating class of about 172, somewhere between 10-12 students chose to take a gap year before attending college. Compared to my middle school, which was a K-12, I felt much more supported by Hotchkiss to take a gap year. Some schools can make you feel like an underachiever for taking a gap year, but that wasn’t the case at Hotchkiss.

Why did you decide to take a Gap Year? What got you interested?

 A lot of people at Hotchkiss actually take gap years, so that got me interested. I felt that it would be great to do a lot of things on a gap year that I couldn’t necessarily do once I’m in college or working in my professional career.

I was also feeling burnt out from school. I couldn’t get excited about signing up for classes and I knew that if I took a year off to re-evaluate, I would thrive much more at school.

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Photo: Lucia and her brother traveling on her gap year.

What was the biggest challenge on your gap year?

Definitely the unstructured time between the Fall and Spring sections of my gap year. Even though I learned how to manage my time better, this was challenging. If I did my gap year again, I would have planned more in between then.

What advice do you have for someone who is planning on taking a gap year?

Make sure you talk to people who have taken a gap year! I also think you should get a good balance of productivity and fun and doing things that you actually want to do or are interested in, rather than just doing things that look good on a resume.

 

Six Questions Most Students Ask Before Taking A Gap Year

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Photo Credit: GYS student

  1. Would I be behind after taking a Gap Year?

Absolutely not! We understand that this is a common concern of both students and parents though. One of the ways they express their concern is wondering if missing math or not being “academic” for a year will cause a form of learning “atrophy”. This turns out not to be the case. Studies have shown that students who take a Gap Year end up graduating with higher GPAs. In fact, students who take a Gap Year feel more prepared, ready to learn and are more engaged academically and socially after they arrive on campus.

  1. What happens if I choose a different program than my major of study?

While there are no absolutes when it comes to the deferral process and college policies regarding majors and other areas such as transfer credits, for the most part students will find that colleges are flexible. We find that colleges are wiling to work with Gappers to accommodate changes in majors and undergraduate programs. It is up to the student to take the initiative to reach out to their college and ensure that things are in order for their enrollment.

  1. I would like to apply for College, should I apply before or after I take a Gap Year?

We highly recommend that high school seniors apply to colleges as they normally would. Students would then decide on their school, and put down a deposit to hold their place by the deadline. Seniors who are considering a Gap Year will often be thinking about and researching options during their last semester, and checking in with their school of choice to make sure they understand the deferral policies and process. Currently, every school has a unique process, and while there are many similarities, it is super important to understand how it works for the student’s own school. Having said this, we have worked with students who choose to apply to college during the first portion of their Gap Year. This is for many reasons, including not knowing what they want to study in college, not getting accepted to their preferred schools, and sometimes simply because they delayed the whole college application process.

  1. How do I find the right project(s) for me?

Typically students participate in multiple activities during their Gap Year. We tend to think of a Gap Year as broken up into segments, almost like college semesters. There is almost never just one “project” during this time (examples of a long, single activity would be something such as City Year or a year long language immersion program). We work with our students to structure a Gap Year plan that includes a number of experiences based on their interests and goals. These include internships, jobs, service and volunteer opportunities, travel, adventure, leadership and many others.

  1. Are there gap year scholarships or financial aid available?

Many programs offer financial assistance and scholarships to help with affordability, and there are also other grants available specifically to support Gap Year experiences. We suggest enrolling in structured Gap Year programs as early in the process as possible, since funds do run out. Parents can utilize funds from 529 accounts if there will be college credits earned during the program. Also some colleges are now offering stipends to support admitted students who are deferring enrollment to pursue a Gap Year. UNC has done this for several years, and Duke will be awarding up to $15,000 to support their Gap Year.  In addition, many of our students work during their Gap Year and will often use their earnings to help pay for a Gap Year program. Lack of financial resources should NEVER be a reason not to consider a Gap Year!

  1. Do Colleges like Gap Years? Will my application to College be accepted after I take a Gap Year?

Colleges love Gap Years! We recently surveyed U.S. colleges and universities about their attitudes towards Gap Years, and with few exceptions, schools embrace the benefits that Gap Years bring to students. A few comments we received during our research:

  • Boston College: “We fully support the decision to take a gap year”
  • Reed College: “We support the passions of admitted students and how they achieve their educational goals, which we understand may involve a gap year”
  • NC State: “We see them as beneficial to a student’s intellectual growth and maturity”
  • Clark University: “We love students who participate in experiential and alternative learning experiences”

 

This post originally appeared on United Planet on May 13, 2019 as “Six Questions Most Students Ask Before Taking A Gap Year? Gap Year Consultant, Katherine Stievater, Shares Expertise With United Planet.”

 

 

The Best Jobs to Learn Valuable Life Skills

 

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One of our Gappers, Hanna, working as a barista at Caffe Nero

While most people associate a “gap year” with traveling and Instagram-perfect pictures, that’s not always the reality, or the best option for many students. Many of our gappers choose to incorporate some kind of paid or unpaid job during their gap years. There are so many valuable life skills that many entry-level jobs can teach you, and most of them pay at least minimum wage! Check it out below:

  • Waiter or Waitress: Waiting tables at a restaurant, coffee shop, or even a bar can be a great option. In these jobs, you will learn to work effectively with people and serve others properly through customer service. Waiters also learn organizational skills as they navigate working with co-workers in such a busy environment. And a bonus: most waiters make a lot of money in tips!

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Some gappers preparing a beautiful meal!

  • Prep Cook/Assistant Cook in a Restaurant: This is a job that doesn’t come to everyone’s mind when they think about life skills, but it offers opportunities to learn and even move up in a company. To my surprise, I learned that prep cooks can acquire entrepreneurial skills. A prep cook is an essential job in any restaurant, and in this position you must be responsible and entrepreneurial- able to think on your feet and be creative in a spontaneous situation.
  • Retail Salesperson: As a salesperson you’ll learn… sales! Not only will you be able to sell someone a jacket or maybe even a laptop, but you’ll begin to hone in on the way in which you connect with other people. If you want to learn interpersonal and negotiation skills, you may want to look into retail. Most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have held a sales position at one point in their lives.
  • Receptionist: This job can motivate you to move up in an organization. By working as a receptionist in any industry that you’re interested in (accounting firm, tech, retail, etc.), you can also gain networking connections to help you attain your dream job in the future. And lastly, receptionists are some of the best at time management – a necessary skill for college.
  • Camp Counselor: As a camp counselor, especially at a sleepaway camp, you’ll learn many necessary skills for college and beyond. Working with children can teach you patience, which is a great skill to master before all those group projects in college. Camp counselors also learn interpersonal skills with their campers, the campers’ parents, their fellow counselors, and even their older bosses.

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One of our students volunteering at Community Servings in Jamaica Plain

  • Volunteer: Although volunteering is inherently an unpaid position, it is a great opportunity to further your passion for anything. Whether you’re an animal lover, interested in working with underprivileged students, or want to help homeless people, organizations are always looking for new volunteers. You can learn just about any skill, and more importantly connect with a worthy cause or charity.
  • Start-Up: Many start-up ventures are interested in hiring customer service or sales reps, depending on their needs. This can be a great opportunity to learn the inner workings of the startup and venture capital world, and to gain important networking connections. On top of this, many startup CEOs and bosses are young, so can teach you relevant skills like social media management.

At Gap Year Solutions, we want students to feel empowered by their gap years. And in many cases, this doesn’t involve a year full of traveling. Choosing a job, or multiple jobs, throughout your gap year can teach you a variety of skills and provide you with insight on your passions. Contact Katherine to learn more about what your gap year could do for you.