Morgan Heath-Powers ‘24, Southern Methodist University
If you’re connected to CollegeFindMe, you likely intend to go to college. Me too! But if you told me at the start of senior year that I’d defer college enrollment to spend a gap year managing a software start-up, I wouldn’t believe you. Navigating the college application process is daunting in itself. Changing plans last minute is even scarier…and sometimes the best thing ever.
What’s a gap year?
A gap year/semester is a time when high school or college students press pause on their formal academics. You can travel, work, volunteer, or enjoy some other life experience. Before we dive into the fun details, you must first ensure that your college approves your gap year. Most schools offer great resources to submit a gap year request before being accepted, or in my case, afterwards. Regardless, be prepared to explain the nature of your gap year. What do you plan to do and accomplish? How it will further your continued growth as a student, both personally and professionally? I recommend collaborating with your college counselor or CollegeFindMe to begin your consideration as early as possible.
Regardless of where you come from, we can all relate to some form of pressure from our family, friends, teachers, or community concerning our post-graduation plans. In my case, I was intent on leaving home straight after high school to attend some elite out-of-state university. The idea of taking a gap year was never on my radar… until October of my senior year. When I started to a new internship with a local software start-up, I figured it was just another chance to boost my professional experience on the road to college. Little did I know that I’d spend the days leading up to graduation learning more from my job than my classes, writing application essays from an airplane en route to business trips abroad! I was busier (and happier) than ever. But as decision day drew closer, I realized that I was seriously considering deferring college for a year.
Making a decision
I’ll be honest, saying “yes” to the gap year was one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made. I can still remember one night in February when I came home from work, tears in my eyes. It had been a great day and my boss proposed that I take a gap year to work for the company full-time. As excited as I was, it suddenly hit me that I’d be putting my dreams of college on pause to step into the real, professional world far earlier than I’d ever expected to. But if I’ve learned anything since that night, it’s that some of the choices that scare us the most are the ones that call us toward the opportunities and life experiences we’re most meant for. I believe that getting down to the root of what we’re meant to do comes down to two main factors: exposure and preparation.
I got recruited for this internship (now full-time job that I LOVE) by a family friend who knew I was heavily involved in an international business organization throughout high school. I was interested in entrepreneurship, so I positioned myself in environments, learning opportunities, and networks of people who’d help me to forward that passion. If you’re still in high school, here are some ways you can start gaining exposure:
- Use free time every week to research jobs that align with your passions, favorite classes, extracurriculars, hobbies, etc.
- Explore free, online courses through platforms like Coursera and edX to learn about topics that aren’t offered at your school.
- Revisit some of the clubs and student organizations at your school (if it wasn’t for DECA, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for business and working with people!).
- Work with your school counselor to identify some volunteer or internship opportunities you might enjoy.
As you start to explore new opportunities, it might feel difficult to choose between so many options – from internships, to gap years, to universities. Prepare yourself by taking the time to consider them all. I’d often ask myself “where would I grow the most?”. This is when other people’s opinions (family, friends, the media, etc.) can start to sway you one way or the other. When in doubt, come back to your exposure – what’s most exciting and fulfilling to YOU? Trust me, people will have opinions regardless of what decision you make, so you might as well choose the path that aligns with your unique passions and aspirations. Give yourself some credit for how far you’ve come, take note of what excites you the most about your future, and go for it!
Making it work
While I felt scared to take a leap of faith into the whole gap year thing at first, Southern Methodist University’s willingness to defer my acceptance (Go Mustangs!) renewed my excitement. I became really intentional with the goals I hoped to achieve throughout the year before I’d return to school. Now half-way through the experience, here are some of my biggest takeaways, tips, and learning lessons:
- Whatever you do, pour your heart into it. For me, this means that I’m intent on going to work everyday with real heart – to forward this company, our mission, and our team toward success. Remember when I talked about following your passions? This is huge! Work doesn’t feel so much like work when you believe in what you’re doing.
- Invest in yourself and build some technical skills. Here’s the thing. I do NOT like computer science. I came into GalenaHill from the business management side of things. But since starting, I’ve become truly interested in the software, have written our two most recent patents, and am starting to learn front-end code! What does that mean for you? Don’t underestimate the value of exposure. You just might discover a new interest, passion, or skill you didn’t even know was there.
- Have fun! Since starting my gap year, I’ve been making intentional time for the things I love – my own side hustles, my health and wellness, my church, my broader community, and more. I even started a podcast called Real College Talk where we bring forth real stories and empowering advice to help make your post-grad decision truly your own. Check out our collaboration with CollegeFindMe here!
Now, is it all sunshine and rainbows? Not always, no. But I think the beauty of taking a gap year is that it’s a unique opportunity to create your own curriculum for your education, your professional growth, and your life. At the end of the day, it is YOUR life. If you expose yourself to positive opportunities, put in the proper preparation, and plan how you’ll make the most of your experience regardless of what you choose, I promise that you can’t go wrong.
There is no “right” way to do high school, college, or life. But if you’re looking to say “yes” to the experiences that will bring you the most fulfillment, happiness, and success, I think you’re in the perfect place.
Rooting for you, Morgan