By: Jeff Schiffman, Director of Admissions, Tulane University
33 members of the class of 2022 will be coming to NOLA fresh off a Gap Year. We've seen a growing number of students opting to take a Gap Year before they start at Tulane. Members of the class of 2022 are coming back from gap years studying cuisine in Paris, learning Spanish in Honduras while researching in the Mayan Highlands, while some will have spent time interning to save money for college or participating in public service projects.
I reached out to four former Gap Year students to get their take on it. Let's meet some of our former gappers here. Take it away, guys!
Andrew Noorani, Class of 2021
The plan for my gap year was to gain experience working in restaurants and to travel a little. I knew taking a gap year would be good for me for two reasons in particular. I felt I needed to mature more before I could really do well in college and to be sure that a career in the restaurant industry was something I wanted to pursue.
My gap year began when I started working at New York City’s Gotham Bar and Grill. I was thrown in the deep end immediately, working 13 hour days, 6 days a week. It was certainly a wakeup call from the second semester attitude I had while in high school. I was learning so much and loving every second of work. Of course, there were hard days too, it can be lonely working in a large city while your high school friends are enjoying their first months of college. However, it was during those times in which I really matured. I saw how hard one must work in the real world and how necessary grit was.
Eventually, it was time for a little travelling. So I decided to go half way around the world to Australia and New Zealand. Travelling is such an important part of a gap year, because when else are you going to have enough time to go to the places you have always wanted?
When move in day came around, I knew I was ready. I had lived on my own for a year, worked harder than ever and seen the world. I was even able to save up a bit of money so I could enjoy the amazing food New Orleans has to offer. I have gone into my classes with the same work ethic that I needed while working in fast paced kitchens and this has really helped me. My gap year taught me how to get the most out of my time, a skill I never take for granted. Best of all, my experience over the gap year has given me an impressive resume, which has helped to secure a summer job and a part time internship during the school year. If I hadn’t taken a gap year, my first year wouldn’t have been nearly amazing as it has been!
Tamar Arenson, Class of 2020
My name is Tamar Arenson and I am a freshman, majoring in Political Science and International Relations. When I was a senior in high school, I applied to colleges just like the rest of my friends, but I knew my path would look a little different. I had decided to take a gap year. I had grown up in the Young Judaea community; attending their summer camps, year round programing and travel programs. Young Judaea also offers a gap year in Israel called Year Course. Since I was 10 years old, I knew that before I went to college, I too would go on Year Course.
During my year, I spent the first half working at an elementary school in an inner city as an english teacher. I developed incredible bonds with my students and was able to watch them grow and learn a new language. For the second half of my year, I took classes through my program which ranged from history to art and culture. We also traveled the entire country, exploring different landscapes, communities and religions. Finally, I traveled to Rwanda for 5 weeks where I lived and worked at youth village for orphans in Rwanda that was founded by a Year Course alumna.
Throughout all of these experiences I was also living in an apartment with roommates, ostensibly on my own for the first time. I had to learn to budget my spending, navigate new areas, make new friends and be far away from my parents. I came to college feeling so much more prepared than I would have right out of high school. I had already experienced a transition before, and was excited to do it again! Both my academics and social life soared because I felt so comfortable and excited by my new experience. My gap year not only opened my eyes culturally, through my travels and experiences, but also taught me how to live alone, be in a new place and make the most of every opportunity. I have tried to carry this same mentality through my freshman year of college and can honestly say the two best decisions I ever made in my life were going on Year Course and coming to Tulane.
Kira Farley, class of 2020
Taking a gap year was the best decision I could have made! Get ready for me to sound like I am writing in clichés and coming straight out of a Disney movie, because my experience was a dream. I cannot imagine how my life might have turned out differently had I not spent time outside of the academic world. I spent my gap year living in Paris, France on a CIEE program. My year was chocked full of taking cool classes to learn about the culture of my new home (art history taught INSIDE Le Louvre, anyone??), volunteering in a café where the majority of customers were immigrants (Learning how to make un café crème while simultaneously hearing about someone’s life story was pretty amazing!) and traveling to as many towns, cities and countries as I could! I was only 18 years-old and here I was, traveling to Italy, Spain, London and Germany in one month and the flights cost a total of 50 euros.
I enjoyed high school and was excited for college…who wouldn’t be when you’re going to Tulane! However, I wanted to step outside of the academic setting to learn about myself and the world around me. Did I have apprehensions about being a year behind? Of course, but Tulane made my transition as smooth as butter both academically and socially. I never once felt like an outsider or like I couldn’t handle whatever situation I found myself in. In fact, everyone that I meet tells me that they WISH they had taken a gap year. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my incredible host family, food, friends and experiences in France. I know that taking a gap year helped shape who I want to represent in my years at Tulane and my life beyond. If you find yourself wondering whether or not a gap year is for you, say YES!
Kelsey Williams, class of 2019
Taking a gap year was the best decision I have ever made, and I could not recommend the experience more highly to anyone finishing high school. It allowed me to grow into an independent young adult beyond my refined ability to study for AP exams and write personal statements. Don’t get me wrong – these skills were extremely valuable to me, and are the reason I am able to be studying on a scholarship at a Tulane. However I honestly believe I am a happier, more well-rounded person because I took some time off from school.
I first began thinking about taking a gap year in November of my senior year of high school but finished the college application process. When May rolled around, I accepted my spot at Tulane but requested a deferral of both my admission and scholarship until the following year. I left for 9 months of traveling in late August.
First I went to South Africa and Botswana, for a month each, and completed a course called EcoTraining, which certified me to be a Safari guide. In practice, this was a long, educational camping trip among the lions and elephants. It was a wonderful way to start the year abroad, because it was a fairly structured environment with a small group of people that became close friends. It was also a completely foreign experience with many new challenges, but everyone spoke my language, so it was navigable. I had limited access to technology and connection to home, which helped me build my confidence. I also developed a new passion for the environment, which I will carry for the rest of my life.
In late October, I flew from Johannesburg to Arusha, Tanzania. For three months I lived with a host family, shadowed doctors in a community hospital, and volunteered at a local orphanage. This was the most challenging segment of my year. There were very few other westerners, so I frequently felt culturally and linguistically isolated. It took concerted effort to step outside my comfort zone and make connections with local people. However, these experiences allowed me to grow significantly as a person, helping me check my privilege and develop a broader worldview. Additionally, this experience solidified for me that I want to pursue medicine and public health. I returned to Arusha last summer on a State Department Critical Language Scholarship to learn Swahili, and I hope to continue working in East Africa throughout my career.
The final stop of my gap year was New Zealand, where I arrived in early February. I stayed the first few nights in hostels while I explored the city and found an apartment and job, and then settled into life in Wellington. I worked as a waitress and barista in a small restaurant downtown, and part-time as a caterer for a larger company. Through my jobs and housemates, I made great friends and thoroughly enjoyed spending three months as an independent adult in the city. By the beginning of May, I had saved enough money to quit my jobs, rent a car, and road trip the entirety of the country for 5 weeks. This was the happiest time of my life. Now, as I write this reflection amidst cramming for organic chemistry and physics finals, it keeps me grounded to have learned that fullness of my life depends on more than higher education and my grades.