When St. Xavier High School graduate Jack Berding joined the 40,000 students annually who take a gap year, he—like 92 percent of these students—did so to gain life experiences. While this often translates to determining a college major or career path, students on a year off tend to gain even more: namely, perspective.
As a ski tech in Colorado, Berding’s assistant manager “was 38, making very little money, [had] no kids…and [was] the happiest person I ever met,” Berding says. This uprooted Berding’s belief that to be happy you must go to college, work, start a family, and send your kids to college. As he continued meeting joyful people who veered from this traditional path, Berding’s “entire outlook changed forever.” Now a student at Loyola University Chicago, he plans to film a docuseries exploring happiness this summer.
You won’t know when your perspective will change on a gap year. University of Cincinnati student Amelia Carpenter discovered her resilience traveling alone in Europe. Holding back tears after missing her train, a 19-year-old Carpenter took a deep breath and found a way to her destination—a moment that made her realize just how capable she is.
You don’t have to leave the U.S. to learn, either. “I spent a month in a 55-and-up community in frickin’ Daytona, Florida,” Carpenter’s UC DAAP peer Austin Hines says, “But I learned so many lessons, hanging out with people who’ve lived whole lives already.” By allowing time for unconventional opportunities, gap years can challenge the way you’ve always seen the world.