Taking a gap year
Published: August 26, 2021
When looking at options after my senior year of high school, my guidance counselor never suggested taking a gap year. Coming from a rigorous high school, I felt pressure to attend college right away. Unfortunately, the decision to take a gap year was not in my control.
In March of my senior year, I was admitted into the hospital where I would spend the entire spring fighting ulcerative colitis. After moving through several different medications, it had come to the point where I needed to remove my colon and create my internal j-pouch. Because I would have to have multiple surgeries leading up to the time when I would be entering college, I decided to defer my acceptance to Ohio State University for a year to give me a chance to recover and work on my health.
Here are some tips that I found helpful during my gap year:
Take a smaller course load of classes online
Whether through your college or a community college, taking one or two classes can be helpful. I found that having a class gave me a purpose to wake up in the morning, and it helped me fill all the empty time I had. Additionally, since I registered with my school’s disability program, I utilized accommodations, like extended deadlines, for my disease. In December 2020, I had surgery and my teachers allowed me to finish my finals early before my surgery happened. With the flexibility of online classes as well as extended deadlines when I was sick, taking a few courses wasn’t stressful and rather was a reason for me to get up and going in the morning.
Find a job that accommodates your disease
When taking a gap year, lots of people expected me to get a job and work. However, with my ulcerative colitis having more bad days than good, I found it hard to work a typical job. Instead, I started a dog and house-sitting business where I could stay in other people’s houses and take care of their animals while they were gone. Despite being fatigued and using the bathroom often, I could sit and watch TV with the dogs while still getting paid. Additionally, since I was immunosuppressed, this job allowed me no-contact with anyone since I arrived and left when the family wasn’t present.
Take time to rest
As someone who is constantly moving, this tip was the hardest lesson for me to learn. Before I was sick, I would have my days booked from when I woke up to the time I went to sleep. However, after four significant surgeries in under a year, this wasn’t possible. My body had taken a beating and needed time to recover. I often felt guilty for spending hours a day on my couch; however, due to my chronic fatigue, doing anything else felt like a chore. So, every day I would set three goals and allow myself to be okay with doing less. Sometimes my goals would include going to the store or grabbing takeout food, but most times, my goals included showering, eating breakfast, or folding a batch of laundry. While these tasks seem small in the grand scheme of things, at the time, they were challenging.
Stay connected with friends
Spending a year at home while your friends are in college is especially hard because it can get lonely. I found it best to reach out to my friends and not isolate myself further. More frequently than not, you might know people taking classes at community college or gap years. I encouraged myself to reach out to other people who were around and ask them to hang out, so I had a group of people to surround myself with while I was at home. This often made the time go by faster because, when I was feeling up for it, I was able to interact with people besides my family.
Initially, I beat myself up for taking a gap year. I felt like a failure for not doing the traditional route of high school immediately followed by college. I found myself trying to hide from my friends and was just overall embarrassed. Looking back now, taking a gap year was one of the best things I could have done. Having time to heal and recover was irreplaceable compared to any other treatment.
Taking a gap year was enormously helpful for me, and if you are going through a flare or needing surgery or hospitalization, might be a good option for you to consider as well. I found it helpful to talk about this option with my family and figure out a plan for that year that would help me be prepared to start college feeling better, physically and mentally.
Kate Gilfillan is an ulcerative colitis patient, a student at Ohio State University, and a member of the Foundation's National Council of College Leaders.