5 ways that gap years will ruin your life

4 October 2017
4 Oct 2017
West Lafayette, IN
7 mins

I’m on month ten of my gap year this year, so obviously, I’m a world-class expert on this topic.

And it’s been a complete agony. Instead of taking notes during lectures and spending late-nights doing homework, all I’ve managed is:

  1. helping start a start-up company

  2. flying a plane

  3. traveling to Boston, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh to attend conferences about technology, design, and poetry (not to mention vacations at Park City, SLC, and Yellowstone)

  4. working a full-time software development job

  5. growing a software product to over 30,000 users to date

  6. volunteering to teach computer science around the city

  7. creating graphic design pieces for Lafayette Rotary, The Anvil, TEDxPurdueU, Trubadour, and a few individual clients as freelance work

and that’s just the tip of this iceberg of horror.

Since I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the topic, I thought I’d break down exactly how taking a gap year to study abroad, work, self-teach, or gain new experiences can completely ruin your life and career.

1. You can gain first-hand career experience, which is a terrible use of your time.

Now, you may have heard the platitude that, especially in technical fields like computer science and engineering, experience plays a much more pivotal role than pure, scholastic record in getting hired into the right places.

While there’s some reason behind this argument. this is clearly a flawed opinion.

When you’re at work, “gaining experience”, you’ll encounter scenarios that require you to be a self-sufficient, creative problem solver. You’ll be handed questions that have real-world relevance, that are helping real people get more value out of their lives or do something they enjoy. You’ll learn to work with others collaboratively rather than competitively, to enjoy being challenged by problems.

You’ll have the opportunity to work with and meet people who are much smarter and more experienced in new and interesting fields, which will make you feel so dumb you’ll wonder how you graduated in the first place.

In other words, you’ll just be wasting your time. Obviously, real-world experiences that you’ll gain by working during a gap year won’t help you in the real-world, and you’re better off learning how to ace tests and cram-read textbooks with that time.

2. By traveling, you will lock-in your perspective, lose confidence, and just waste money that you could have used for secondhand textbooks off Amazon

Contrary to popular belief, traveling to new places and new experiences is the worst thing you can do during a gap year.

This September, I traveled to Pittsburgh for a Google-organized event about design and technology. Not only did I have to endure free food (booze was also provided but I didn’t want to stretch my luck) and swag, I found myself with renewed interests in design arts and technology.

What a distraction to the important task at hand of getting quality education.

To add to that mess, I also took the last day of the trip to travel around the city itself and do some sightseeing, which, combined with the perfect weather, just made me walk until my legs hurt and didn’t show me anything but a bunch of cool buildings, fountains, and extremely photogenic skylines to admire.

Moral of the story: unless you enjoy wandering around new places and learning interesting things from new events or people, don’t risk traveling. It’s just a world of hurt.

3. By gaining much better perspective on your career options and what you enjoy, you’ll just end up sounding like an annoying snob

While working this year, both full-time and on my personal projects, I’ve gained a much better understanding of how I work and what kinds of work I enjoy.

Now, you might be thinking, that sounds like a good thing. And that’s where you’re wrong.

The truth is, knowing more about yourself and how you work won’t help you in college. Instead, being more aware of yourself and your passions will just make you sound stuck-up and annoying. Innocence is a gift here; don’t ruin it by becoming more mature.

4. Rather than enjoying your time studying for midterms, you’ll waste your valuable time on hobbies that won’t add any value to your life

This is something I’ve only realized in retrospect. Here are some superficial things I got myself into this year:

  1. I tried flying a plane at Purdue Aviation

  2. I commute via an electric skateboard to work

  3. I regained my interested in painting and the visual arts

  4. I’m getting back into playing cello and flute, which I didn’t have time to do in the later years of my high school career

  5. I’ve grown interest in cars, which combines my love for physics, design, and business into some really cool machines we see around us every single day

So I’ve used the extra time that I have to pursue interests that I weren’t able to in entirety in school due to time constraints, which seems like a nice thing, until you notice this:

hobbies are not useful in real life.

My skateboard can’t factor quintic polynomials. Knowing the difference between an open automotive differential and a limited-slip differential isn’t going to solve those Schrodinger’s equations for me.

So why even care about finding and enjoying these kinds of activities? Seems like just an excuse to skip school to me.

5. Because you have control of your schedule and your time, you’ll learn more about yourself and how you can manage your time and productivity: a skill completely irrelevant to college life.

I really feel like, especially several months into managing my own schedule, I have a much better understanding of how I work and how can be productive than ever before.

But every time I feel good about how I’m more self-aware and able to be more productive on work I enjoy, I remind myself how none of these skills of time management are relevant in college, and this gap year thing is just a giant waste of time and money.

So, in conclusion…

I can’t guarantee that everyone’s gap year experience will be this useless. I mean, Harvard, MIT, and many other colleges of all calibre are even starting to buy this snake oil and actually recommend that students give some consideration to taking a gap year. And you know not to take an advice coming from some of the most influential and respected educational institutions in the world.

Don’t do it.


On a non-satirical note:

Look, I’m not pretending that gap years are for everyone, or even the majority of today’s students. There are many, many reasons to go straight into college, from financial situations to availablility of viable career-moving opportunities in your field of interest to just getting into a great college on your first try. For the majority of students, there are probably more reasons to forego a gap year than to take it.

I also know that college itself is an incredibly rewarding experience and a valuable time of growth, which is why I’m returning to school in 2018.

But I think it’s misguided and even ignorant to put down the idea of a gap year without objectively weighing the options, based on the conventions of the past.

And I wrote this post because I’m frustrated by people around me who argue that I’m wasting time and money doing frivolous things when I could be in college studying away. I just don’t agree that that’s the case.

A post from MIT puts it very succinctly:

if you had an entire year to do anything you want, with unlimited time, no expectations, no SATs or class ranks or gossip or student club presidencies to get in the way… what would you do? Let’s just pretend that after you graduate, instead of just returning to school in the fall, you finally get to work on that dream project, tinker in that lab, or spend a year overseas (all expenses paid) teaching something you know and learning everything you never knew all at the very same time. And you’d wake up every day knowing that MIT’s just down the road.

Many college admissions officers support the idea [of deferring admission for a year or two]. While cautioning that a “gap year” between high school and college isn’t for everyone — and that just goofing off isn’t worthwhile — they say many students who take one return more confident and self-aware.

I’ve gambled the supposedly unthinkable — entering college a year late — and I gained a better understanding of what I want to do and who I want to be, how much I love working with passionate, driven, creative people, and how much more enjoyable life can be when the two collide.

And obviously, my life has been utterly ruined, shattered to pieces, as a result.

Thanks so much for reading.


If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, What ignited the fuel.

Have a comment or response? You can email me.