My first month back from my gap year has been a strange experience. All my friends are now seniors writing theses and searching for jobs; I have two years of school left, after having spent the past one in California and Bangalore. But if there’s one thing I’ve gained from my time off, it’s perspective — that there’s more to life outside the Orange Bubble, that growth often happens in the most uncomfortable situations, and that I have good company in navigating the post-gap-year transition.
There are 100 students or so on leave from the University at any given time, estimates Claire Fowler, senior associate dean of the college.
Some take time off to clarify their career paths — like Jin Soo Lim ’18, who thought he wanted to be an astrophysics researcher but realized in his junior year that he didn’t like doing research. He spent the next year working briefly in consulting, then tech marketing, and finally found his niche in software engineering.
“If I didn’t take the gap year, I still wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do,” he said. “As a senior, I might have been prepping for consulting interviews right now and not realized I hated it until I started my job.”
Others take time off for personal reasons. Rachel Yee ’19 took time off between her freshman and sophomore years to work on family relationships. She called it a year that “changed the trajectory of my life. I’m way happier, more grateful post-gap year. ... I’m confident in who I am.”
Similarly, Bruno Schaffa ’19, a history major who returned from working at a tech startup in Brooklyn, found his greatest gap-year lesson to be “finding his own wavelength” away from the University. “One of the things I’m slowly taking back at Princeton [is] pacing myself. Here we have a tendency to do every extracurricular imaginable, plus taking five classes,” Schaffa said.
Ishanya Anthapur ’20 challenged herself to step outside of her comfort zone on her gap year traveling around India and Nepal — including a 20-day trek and using a squat toilet for the first time. Coming back this fall, she feels like she’s been pushed to understand herself and her goals better.
Like Schaffa, she’s focused on the few classes and activities she genuinely enjoys, instead of trying to do everything at once. “I found that it’s very easy to just exist at Princeton and do a good job and live your life. That sometimes gets lost when you’re trying to be involved and get amazing grades and be a great social person and do all these things,” Anthapur said.
That doesn’t mean returning to campus is all confidence and rainbows, however.
Alina Kido-Matzner ’19 is president of the Princeton Gap Year Network, an organization that supports students reintegrating into Princeton after time off. “The transition back is difficult because when you get back on campus everyone is like, ‘Where were you?’” she said. It may be especially difficult to speak about time off if it was taken for reasons that were unplanned, such as family emergencies or health issues, and it can be hard for sophomores and juniors to readjust if their friends have joined eating clubs in their absence, she noted.
Yee spoke about the uncertainties of class identity: “I still feel a lot more affiliated with 2018 than I do with 2019 ... . As an alumna, I don’t really know which I’m going to choose [at Reunions]. I would really like to be part of both.”
Yet perhaps that’s part of the beauty of taking time off — fluid identities spawn multiple perspectives and new communities, and a chance not only to expand your perspective outside of the Bubble, but to continue doing so back inside.
My (very humble) advice — a moment to breathe is always valuable, regardless of when you take it or how long it lasts. As Yee put it — “It’s always, ‘Go go go!’ People are always moving toward the next thing. It can be good to have time to reflect.”