“Duke, Cornell, UPenn, Vanderbilt, Harvard..,” my friend, Sophia, rambles off a long list of prestigious universities that she plans on applying to throughout her upcoming senior year of high school. It’s hard to believe that I was in her shoes only a year ago.
Last August, I was just like Sophia, a rising highly-motivated and highly-stressed senior, with plans to apply to seven colleges and four honors programs. The idea of a gap year had never crossed my mind. And after four months of senior year, 12 program applications, and 22 college essays, I was finally done with paving the path for my future – all I had to do was wait for the schools to notify me of their decisions.
But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted something different.
It wasn’t until January that I began to research bridge year options. I knew that I wanted a program that would last 7-8 months and I knew that I was intrigued by the idea of teaching English. There were a limitless number of gap year programs limitless – limitless, that is, until I considered the budget that I was working with. I had to pay for my gap year myself. I quickly became overwhelmed by the number of options available to me, and then, just as quickly, I became overwhelmed by the high price tags that came along with all of the dream-like programs.
Unlike when I was researching colleges, I had no one to advise me about best gap year programs. I had no friends who had taken gap years and none of the counselors at my school could help me; in fact, many of them looked confused when I told them I was considering deferring my college acceptance. As quickly as I became obsessed with the idea of a bridge year, I began to give up on one because the logistics seemed impossible to figure out. Online research, emails, applications to determine the best gap year experience was a daunting and time consuming process, especially on top of the college applications and essays I had just finished.
Despite how deflating the idea of writing a whole new set of application essays seemed, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I would be missing out on something huge if I didn’t give these programs a shot. I embarked on a journey of interviews, essays, and research, trying to find the best (and most affordable) option for me.
I read about the Global Citizen Year program for the first time while I was sitting in a Starbucks in January working with my mom. I had heard of the non-profit Global Citizen before, so I immediately paid extra attention to this program, assuming that since I had heard of the company I was less likely to be scammed or murdered (a very extreme fear that I had). After reading what a Global Citizen Year would look like, I immediately knew that this was the the gap year I was going to take. My heart dropped moments later when I saw the price tag on the program – I had only worked as a lifeguard during the summers of high school and had nowhere close to enough money to pay for it. With an hour left before the coffee shop closed, I decided to just go for it and apply despite the cost. It couldn’t hurt to apply – even if it meant writing three more essays.
After being accepted in the GCY program through a series of Facetime interviews and assignments, all I had to do was wait for my financial aid offer. I had already gone through this for all of the colleges I had gotten accepted to, but I didn’t feel anywhere close to as nervous as I did for this reveal. I knew that I needed to take a Global Citizen Year.
I didn’t receive the aid that I needed to pay for the program on the first offer and I was devastated. It felt like this was just another sign that a gap year wasn’t really a realistic option. I went ahead and reapplied for more financial aid, but my hopes were low and I began to search for other bridge year options and scholarship opportunities. A few months later, after the second financial aid reveal, I was still unable to pay, and the idea of taking a Global Citizen Year slipped away completely.
A gap year seemed impossible at this point. My parents encouraged me to keep searching if it’s what I really wanted though, and I came up with a plan and officially deferred my admission to the University of Virginia. I would re-apply for Global Citizen financial aid one last time, as well as some gap year scholarships, and if that didn’t work, I would do independent travel and some volunteer work in South America with an international service program recommended by a family friend.
The week before graduation, I got the best news imaginable. Global Citizen was offering me the scholarship that I needed! Ecstatic and teary from the happiness, I sprinted out of my room to tell my parents the good news. From that moment, everything seemed to fall into place perfectly. I knew what the next year of my life was going to look like and I couldn’t have been happier with my opportunity! .
I can’t imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t made that spur-of-the-moment decision to apply to Global Citizen Year. Thanks to my mom’s encouragement that winter evening in the Starbucks and generous scholarships from Global Citizen Year and USA Gap Year, I will be departing in 10 days to spend the next 8 months in Ecuador and I could not be more full of positive emotions about it!