Why Students are Choosing a Gap Year

By Sarah Miller – Horizon News & Features Editor

Resident assistant and ministry assistant letters have been distributed. Freshmen are enrolling in next year’s classes. Sophomores are visiting colleges. Nursing students are choosing housing options. But this year, more of us are considering another option beyond academics: a gap year.

Sophomore Noah Yoder is one of those students. He says he’s listening to God’s call to take a gap year.

I want something other than academic stress to be consuming me,” he said. “I’ve grown a lot in my two years at Hesston, but I really want to take bigger leaps forward in my personal growth before I choose where I want to study next.”

Freshman Morgan Sterner in class. Photo courtesy of Jenna Ratzlaff

Sophomores aren’t the only ones looking at other options. Freshman Morgan Sterner has already committed to an 18-month Latter-Day Saints mission. She’ll spend her time studying scriptures and “spreading the gospel” to people in the area.

“I started to recognize how much I truly loved answering everyone’s questions about my faith,” she said. “After talking to all the different people here, I felt that desire to share with them what I knew.”

For freshman Jaden Hostetter, leaving the academic world makes the most sense for his future plans as a full-time missionary.

“The idea of finishing this school out does not lead me exactly where I want to go,” he said. “I just realized that this was something that I wanted to do in order to better equip myself for being on the mission field and sharing the love of God.”

The New York Times reported last year on two studies suggesting students who take a gap year are more likely to be satisfied with their choices after graduation and have a better understanding of what they want from college.

That’s in line with sophomore Elizabeth Miller. She hopes her year of service will help her feel more confident in future academic decisions.

A lot of [service] placements are with education so that goes with my major, and I’ve kind of gone back and forth on major,” she said. “Hopefully this will solidify that ‘yes I want to do this’ or ‘no, actually, my passions go a different direction.’”

Miller also believes it’s important for her to have a cross-cultural experience outside of her small-town, Midwest comfort zone.

She also recognizes some of the challenges that will come her way, including transitioning back into school.

I’ve heard so many people who have had difficult experiences with coming back,” she said. “I’m not super worried about that because I usually try find some things that I like about my classes anyway. I think it’ll be harder to transition into college life than classes.”

For those considering a gap year, Miller said, “Don’t throw out the option just because it’s hard or scary. I know it’s not for everyone, but if it’s something that interests you, it’s worth looking into.”

Sophomore David Ladwig is still considering his options for next year, but he knows that school isn’t it.

“This semester has been one of the first ones where I’ve not just gone blindly through class and done what teachers ask, but I really thought about what I’m doing with my time and what’s the most productive for me,” he said. “I realized that college, or classes, right now is not the most useful or beneficial way to use my time.”

Ladwig understands that school is beneficial when you’re truly passionate about what you want to study. Learning in a different capacity is what excites him.

“I’m a little bit tired of the classroom setting and ready to experience the real world,” he said.

In the end, Ladwig’s gap year is like many others: time to refocus and determine what their future looks like.

“For those who aren’t actually sure what they want to study, maybe it would be good to consider taking time to experience the world or even chase a dream that you have,” he said. “It’s a good time to learn a lot about yourself.”

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