Great Gap Year Myth #10: “You Can’t Succeed in College if You Take an Academic Break.”

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Meet Ashleigh Gerlach, inaugural Class of 2011, as she shares her perspective on Myth #10: “You Can’t Succeed in College if You Take an Academic Break.”

I was not traditionally successful in high school. Instead, I structured my time in a way that made sense to me. I took extra art classes, spent five days a week in a dance studio, and felt the effects of the travel bug earlier than most. From my vantage point (the average unmotivated student’s perspective), I did not see the value in high school academics, so I didn’t invest my time there. To be honest, I didn’t really have to work for a B average and that seemed good enough for me. As my friends started dreaming of colleges and careers, I couldn’t visualize mine. I was not a bad student by any stretch, yet still felt like one.

I didn’t receive a clear career revelation on gap year like I had hoped, so I started community college.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that my personal growth and developing worldview would enhance my ability to succeed in my undergraduate degree. The skills I learned on gap year turned into healthy habits so quickly that I had no idea I was using them every day. I was paying attention to what made me uncomfortable and leaning into those areas to grow. I listened to the people around me to better understand their lives. I found that I wasn’t afraid of what I didn’t know, which ended up making it very easy to choose a major that I had no prior interest in choosing.

I thought nursing might play to my strengths well while also addressing areas where I knew I was weak, areas I had identified on gap year and continued to pay attention to in my early college days. I picked a four-year nursing program with local and global community involvement and questioned what my nursing career would look like in both contexts. I found that I was better able to excel in nursing classes largely due to the self-awareness and self-management skills I learned on my gap year. I sought out the bigger picture in classes and concepts and took initiative to make my clinical experiences more fruitful.

Although I did encounter traditional academic success in both two-year and four-year institutions, my personal definition of success was shaped by gap year. Though I took pride in my improved GPA, I never felt motivated by it. I spent extra time with my professors to learn their stories and listen to their insights. My view of higher education shifted from a destination to an experience – an experience that was almost entirely up to me to shape. I found more personal reasons to excel in the university setting, which to me is more success than I could have asked for as an unenthusiastic eighteen-year-old.

Facebook: Ashleigh Gerlach

Email: agerlach@northpark.edu

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