By Olivia Martin |

The perfect four-year college experience was all I dreamed about during my high school years. Little did I know that my life would not go according to plan A, but thankfully plan B ended up being so much better.

Taking a gap year after graduating high school was something I never thought I would do. When senior year rolled around, I struggled with the idea of college and unlike many, I actually enjoyed being a senior in high school.

It’s not that I wasn’t excited about the idea of college— in fact, I think it was just the opposite. I fantasized about going to the perfect school, but as I began to visit the colleges I applied to, I started losing hope in that dream.

Maybe it’s my indecisive personality, but after visiting a few schools that I thought would be a good fit and not seeing myself there, I decided to do what any logical teen making a big decision would do—I made a pros and cons list. I weighed out my options multiple times, talked to my parents and sought help from my school counselor, but still found myself unsure of what I wanted to do.

As my senior year sped forward way too quickly, the idea of taking a gap year began to feel more realistic for my scared-of-commitment self. I actually did commit to a school in Michigan, but after visiting it over the summer and still not feeling certain, I realized that taking a gap year was the confirmed choice in my mind.

Being the extrovert that I am, I knew that the hardest part about immediately not going to college was going to be those first few months where I would see all my friends posting pictures about their experiences with new friends at their schools.

So, I made a simple plan for my upcoming year: get a job, travel and find the perfect college.

The first box I checked off was getting a job. I was hired at a local coffee shop called Philz Coffee and not knowing how hard having a full-time job was, started working 30-35 hours per week. In all honesty, I thought about quitting within the first month but after I settled in, I realized that I actually enjoyed the coffee shop scene and spending time with my co-workers.

Travel was also one of my biggest goal for the year. Luckily, one day I got a phone call from one of my only other friends who was taking a gap year, and he told me that he had found cheap tickets to New Zealand and asked if I wanted to go. That same night, we bought our tickets and started planning for our upcoming trip. A few weeks later we convinced one of our other friends to come as well and our plan was set.

If I hadn’t been encouraged by my parents and others, I never would have been given the opportunity to travel for two weeks with two of my best friends. I had never planned a whole trip to a foreign country before, but somehow we managed to make it from Auckland (which is at the top of the North Island) all the way to Queenstown (which is toward the bottom of the South Island). We rented our own car, found cute hostels and airbnbs and even got tattoos from a local shop—don’t tell my mom.

I can’t stress enough how important I think taking a year off before going to college can be. Being one of three out of the 150 students in my grade from my private high school to take a gap year, I felt pressure from my fellow students, teachers and counselors to get into a “good” college. And I did. But I knew I wasn’t ready to go and I had to tell myself that this was OK. I think many students feel this same pressure and are forced to make quick and sometimes irrational decisions about their futures.

The process of re-applying to colleges was pretty simple. But even though I had time to look at new schools and go on college tours, I ended up deciding to attend Baylor on May 1st, the last possible day to commit to any school— can you tell decisions are hard for me?

There were definitely times during my gap year when I felt lonely and confused about what I was doing, but I know now that given the choice, I would never change any part of my experience.

Taking a year off was not perfect. Going to college is not perfect. But through it all, I’ve learned over the past two years to make the most out of every decision and truly live in the moment no matter the circumstances.