Oakland, CA — When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many students needed to reevaluate their relationships with academia. Rather than go along with the traditional norms, it is becoming increasingly common to question the expectations of a traditional academic route. In my case, I decided to take some time off of school to counteract the immense burnout I was feeling. And, while I am deeply gratified by some of my decisions throughout the year, I made some mistakes and learned some lessons worth sharing.
- Really figure out how much downtime you have.
During a gap semester or year, it can be easy to relax and lose track of time — and time flies quickly. You are likely going to be responsible for creating structure in your life. So, if you are taking time off to work, figure out exactly how much you can realistically do to maintain a healthy balance. If you’re taking a gap year to focus on mental health, create some sort of plan to understand what you will do. For instance, planners and calendars can be a very effective tool for planning out the future and creating deadlines for yourself. Rest is important, but making a plan to keep yourself accountable can still be a helpful choice.
- If possible, take on a hobby!
Taking time off of school can be a wonderful opportunity for self-discovery. If you want to try a new task, look for ways to get involved in your local community through apps such as Meetup. For me, making conversation with strangers around my age at events such as concerts and local events was also incredibly helpful! Eventbrite was an especially helpful website in helping me find all sorts of events happening in my area that cater to my interests.
- Try to maintain consistent contact with loved ones
Taking a gap year or semester can have its moments of loneliness. It is normal to feel isolated, especially if you are the only person in your sphere who is taking time off. Much of what kept me feeling supported was making a conscious effort to communicate with my family and friends throughout my journey. However, there is a lot of benefit in taking the time to make new friends too!
- Budget Thoughtfully
During a time off of school, many opt for activities such as travel and, as previously mentioned, hobbies. Such activities can sometimes apply financial pressure. It is crucial to understand your financial standing to better understand what is realistic, or if you should adjust your plans. For example, if you’re interested in travel but you also need a stream of income, look into abroad employment programs! Google Sheets and Mint are easy-to-use (and free!) platforms that are fantastic options for laying out your budgeting plans for your time off of school, and beyond!
- Overall, remember to engage in intentional self-care!
Gap years and semesters can give people a greater capacity to get to know themselves. As such, despite the whirlwind of possibilities, make sure to take intentional time to slow down, relax and clear your mind. Go on walks, do some guided meditations, or engage in another form of self-care that helps to center yourself. That way, you can truly assess your priorities and capabilities for your time off of school! And, if you do decide to return to school, you may continue your education more grounded and passionate!
Ivelisse Diaz, (she/they) is a college student studying psychology from Oakland, California.
Edited by Shaylyn Martos