High school graduation. The moment that you have always wished for since the first day of entering high school has finally arrived. While you are going through it, it felts like an eternity. Now that it has past, it felts like a blink of an eye.
For the first time of your life, you are finally free of what I love to call "Day Prison." There's no "curriculum" for life. You decide for yourself what you want to do.
If life was like playing bowling, the time where you go to school is like playing with the bumpers, preventing you from screwing up too badly. Now that the bumpers are off, you are on your own. It's time for you to make your own independent and educated choices.
"But Scott? What choices do I really have? Don't I need to go straight to college?" - Everyone
A lot of Asian parents assumes that going through all the education part of your life as soon as possible is the only reasonable and educated choice that you have after graduating high school. I beg to differ.
Gap Year - The Choice You Didn't Consider
Most people would often associate gap year with students that take a year off because they are tired of learning and want to spend the whole year messing around and playing. That is undoubtedly one way to spend your free year, but are you making your time's worth if that's what you do?
My version of the gap year is not all fun and games. as a matter of fact, I barely have any free times. You want to squeeze dry every single second of your existence to do something that benefits you.
Here are some excellent examples of how you can make your gap year productive:
1. Find A University Major That You "Actually" Like
Many students don't have the slightest clue about what they want to study in college. A lot of them either choose the trendiest major (e.g., Computer Science) or everyone's favorite fallback major, Business.
When it comes to deciding what major or career you want to pursue, I believe that it's not about what section you did well on your IQ or talent test. It comes down to the first-hand experience of what it feels like to do the work. How can you know you are going to love working as a software engineer if you haven't even tried writing your own simple programs? Does full scoring the IQ test's logic section going to guarantee it? I don't think so.
Take online courses!
Recently, I took Yale's Financial Markets course at Coursera and discovered my inner-passion in the field of finance and economics. While it doesn't change my decision to study computer science at university, it does show me the area that I would love to apply my software engineer knowledge to. FinTech? Quantitative Finance? High-Frequency Trading? We'll see in 4 years ;)
There are a lot of online courses from many prestigious universities that are available for free on the Internet. EdX and Coursera are two of the best place to look for when it comes to online courses.
2. Build Your Career Before Anyone Else
With the right skill and hard work, you can secure a position in a company during your gap year. Depending on your ability, you will be able to score a position as an intern or even a full-time role.
If you are interested in technology, you are in luck. Most tech companies (especially startups) are more open to hiring people without college degree given that you have the right skill set.
One advice that I can give you when you are looking for a job is to try. On the worst possible case, you will not get a reply or not get hired. However, when you score a job at a company, you will get to absorb the knowledge that your peers will not acquire until they graduate college in 4 years. It almost felt like cheating.
3. Do Side-Hustles
If you have a boiling entrepreneurial spirit, doing side-hustles during your gap year is an excellent choice. It lets you experience the culture of "hustling" that is so deeply embedded in entrepreneurship. You will quickly realize that it's not all glamorous like the life of Instagram "entrepreneurs" claims to be.
While doing your side-hustles, you will also encounter many unique people (most likely older than you) that have more experience, and you can similarly learn from their experience. If you are lucky, they might even help your side-hustle to grow even more by introducing you to the right people.
There isn't a template on how to start a side-hustle during your gap year, that's the part of the challenge. However, regardless of whatever you do, make sure that you love what you are doing. While it might look trivial to you now, but when you faced a roadblock, that simple fact will determine your capability to overcome. If you love what you are doing, you can fail 100 times and still have the power to get back up.
Contrary to what most students believe, you do have a choice on what you want to do right after you graduate high school. The question is whether or not you are up to the challenge of choosing the path less traveled.
Let me be very blunt. A gap year is not for everyone.
It is a path filled with unique challenges.
It is a path for the dream seekers, for the ambitious, for the determined.
It is a path that rewards handsomely the adventurers that dares to travel it.
Now... Red pill or blue pill?