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Applying to College in High School vs on a Gap Year

In an earlier post about my decision to take a gap year I mentioned that I had changed colleges. I wanted to go into that in more detail to answer lingering questions and also because my reasons and process connect a lot to why I took a gap year.

As I mentioned before I had gotten into half the schools I applied to (not the half I would’ve have preferred) and I had chosen a large public university in my state mostly because it had given me a really fantastic financial aid package. I wasn’t necessarily juiced to go there in the Fall but I figured that was normal (it is). At orientation in mid-June I met some of my future classmates. They were all perfectly nice people and there was no doubt that they were all incredibly intelligent. What got to me though was that they were just like me in one crucial way: it was obvious that we had all succeeded in high school fueled by a general anxiety about academics. I wanted college to be different. I wanted to learn for the sake of learning and succeed because I was excited by the class content, not because of my GPA. I took my gap year because I wanted time to recollect and experience what life is like without the stresses of academics so that in college I would know how to better handle my stress.

Once on my gap year I realized that I could apply to schools again if I really thought that the one I had chosen wasn’t for me. I decided it was worth it and the gamble paid off: I ended up being accepted ED into my top choice (a school I had been rejected from RD last year).

When I tell this story to high school students I worry that I’m conveying the wrong message so here is what you should take away and not take away from my experience:


  • I would advise not to just take a gap year just to re-apply to colleges (that includes schools who previously rejected you and schools you have never applied to before). If that’s your whole reason for taking a gap year then I think that is going to be a pretty risky year. I didn’t decide to re-apply to schools because I thought my previous school wasn’t prestigious enough or I thought schools that had rejected me had made a mistake. What I wanted in a school then was completely different than what I wanted just a few months later. I reapplied to the school I will attend in the fall because I felt I hadn’t put in much effort into the application the first time around, I thought their journalism program was perfect for me and I regretted not applying ED the first time around. Even then I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t get in and had another four or five schools I was going to apply to if I was rejected or deferred (that I hadn’t applied to before and thought better aligned with my current goals for college). If you are thinking of taking a gap year just because you are unhappy with your current options then you might spend the whole year wishing you were at college, being tormented by your college friends Snap stories and Instagram posts.
  • Think hard about waiting to apply to college until on a gap year because you think it will be less stressful. On the one hand, applying to college on a gap year was way less stressful than applying during senior year. It just felt like another thing I was doing. I had way more time on my hands to devote to my essays and no one was bugging me about it. I didn’t have 800 other nervous kids adding to my college anxiety. On the other hand, had I waited until my gap year to apply to college I still would have had to wade through senior year with 800 anxious kids going through the college process and honestly, I think that would have been worse. I think I would have been more anxious hearing about all my friends and their college stories and I would have constantly doubted my choice to wait. Also, if you wait to apply you will still need letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselors. I can tell you from experience that it is way harder to get letters of rec when you can’t walk into their office because you are across the country or world. Your school will forget about you a lot sooner than you think. Looking back, I still would’ve applied to college senior year. You can do it either way, just know that there will be pros and cons regardless.
  • Do have faith in your decisions. If I’m being completely honest, I probably would have been happy at my previous college. Obviously I’m really happy things worked out the way they did, but if they hadn’t I think I still would’ve ended up on top. I definitely would have needed an adjustment period but I think I would have been fine. If I wasn’t fine then I could have transferred. A lot of my friends were nervous about going to college and many of them didn’t get into their first choice. Almost all of my friends are having a blast in college and of those who aren’t, it’s not because of the college they chose. College is a huge transition and no matter where you go there are going to be challenges and adjustments.


Do not take the college process to heart. Almost everyone will face a rejection during the college process. For some people it’s the first real rejection they’ve received and that can be tough. It’s completely valid to feel sad and angry when rejected from school. You feel that everything that you’ve worked for, all of your life experiences, have just been skimmed and then tossed in the recycling bin. What you have to remember is that a rejection letter is not a rejection of you; it’s a rejection of a piece of paper that in a perfect world is supposed to encapsulate you. But it’s impossible for a 600-word essay, some numbers, and a letter or two can add up to one human being.

A Weekend in Cádiz


Just strolling by the sea in Cádiz.

My beautiful friend Molly in a "Chino" shop. These shops are all over Cádiz and Sevilla and usually have "Bazaar" in their name. These shops are usually run by someone of Asian descent and have everything for super cheap. It's like a better stocked dollar store. You'll walk in and think "I bet they won't have this thing I need" and sure enough they will, and for much, much cheaper than you were willing to pay. So far I've found a gym lock, a phone charger, closet hangers, bobby pins, stockings, mouth wash, a notebook and a super cute wallet. When our guide first told us the colloquial name we were a bit taken a back. He said that it's "not meant in a derogatory way" but somehow I don't think the people who run the shops would say the same. 

Me, bundled up on our rooftop because it's windy AF.

The rooftop of our AirBnB.

The super cool mosaic in our bathroom.

A flower stand in La Plaza De Las Flores, in Cádiz.

To Defer or Not to Defer?

When asked about why I decided to take a gap year I usually smile and respond that “it’s a long story.” It is a long story, so grab a snack and get comfy. When I was halfway through high school, and getting bombarded with questions from friends, relatives and complete strangers about what my plans for next year, I remember getting asked if I’d ever consider taking a gap year. I would usually scoff and say “no way.” I thought gap years were for kids who didn’t really know what they wanted to do in college or beyond. That was not me. I had been really self-motivated throughout high school and knew exactly what I wanted to do in college: I wanted to major in Economics, write for my college newspaper and do internships at different publications in the summers so that I could pursue journalism as a career out of college with a well-stacked resume. That was my plan until mid-July, the summer after I graduated.

I was in Europe for a month with my best friend. We had been planning and saving for nearly a year, and thinking of this trip had gotten me through those last few months of high school. We were a week into our trip and were on a train from Switzerland to Italy. I was having the time of my life and was staring out the window thinking about what an amazing time I was having.

I’m having such an amazing time! Yesterday I swam in a river that was turquoise it was so blue! I went on a hike to a literal castle! I can see THE ALPS out of my window! I wish life was like this all the time! I don’t want to go home in a month! I don’t...want to go to school.

That was the first time I had considered taking a gap year. A week later I talked with my best friend about it. I said that I loved traveling, being the master of my own destiny and that the thought of sitting in a 500-person lecture made me super sad. I told him that I wasn’t excited about college and that I thought I should be. “Yeah, you should be,” he said, and he was right. It’s completely normal to be nervous before going to college and also feel a little sad about summer ending, but I straight up did not want to go to school in the Fall. Talking to all my other friends solidified my feeling that I should be excited about going to school. Within a week of first thinking of taking a gap year I had already started researching programs and how to defer to my college.

My goals for my gap year were to pursue things that I truly loved without the stress of academics. I wanted to travel, learn a language and gain journalism experience. First semester I lived in Massachusetts with family, working at an ice cream shop and as a freelance writer for some local newspapers. I decided to do CIEE’s Seville Language & Culture Program so that I could learn Spanish, live abroad, and have time to travel on my own.

For me taking a gap year was, and is, a really good decision. I really needed this time, not to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but because I had figured out what I wanted to do with my life and needed a breather before I jumped in. I am more confident that I will prioritize self-care in college and not feel pressured to constantly stress about academics just for the sake of a grade. While I know my success in college won’t change compared to high school, my motivation definitely will have. This time for de-stressing and reflection has taught me a lot about how I view myself and my definition of success. I’ve become much more self-assured and have learned to be kinder to myself. I’m really excited for college now (partly because I am going to a different college which I will address in another post) and I’m excited to bring what I’ve learned abroad to college in the Fall.

Wow that was a long post. If you managed to stick with it until the end, I’m impressed. I don’t think I would have. If you’ve skimmed this until the bottom, welcome back. We’re at the part where I bestow my wisdom upon you. Here is what I think about gap years now: I think everyone should look into them. I don’t think there’s only one type of person who could benefit from a gap year and I also don’t think every person should take one. If you are feeling lost and don’t really know what to do with your life then a gap year could be useful in that it would give you time to explore and reflect. If (like me) you’ve got it all planned out but high school really did a doozy on you then maybe you need a year to breathe. If you or your family can’t afford a year off for traveling or what else that is totally valid. I should add that I know people who have taken a year off before college to work and save money who really enjoyed themselves and learned a lot. I worked half the year to save up some money so I could travel for the second half. If you are super psyched for college then that’s awesome and maybe you shouldn’t take a gap year! All in all, a gap year shouldn’t be overlooked and I highly recommend one!


The view from the train when I first thought of taking a gap year.

Welcome to Sevilla

I’ve finished my two weeks abroad, and man, it has been a whirlwind. My flight to Sevilla was not exactly smooth and I’m still feeling the effects of jetlag. To be completely honest, upon putting my bag down on my new bed, in a new house, in a new country, the homesickness and fatigue hit me fast and hard. At that moment all I wanted to do was jump back on the plane and climb into my Californian bed.

That said, every day I’m here I feel more and more at home and I fall more and more in love with Sevilla. Though I did develop a cold (more on that later), the effects of jetlag are starting to wear off and I’m beginning to adjust to the eating schedule. Sevilla is a gorgeous city with a million picturesque street corners and quaint cafes. While at first I was apprehensive about the other people in my group, I’ve come to know them really well and am glad I’m sharing this experience with them. My host mom is incredibly caring and makes delicious lunches. Though Spanish class is difficult, requires a lot of concentration and is very tiring, I notice my Spanish improving every day.

One of the biggest differences between home and Spain is the health care system. At home I have free state health care because I’m only eighteen and do not have a job but it covers the bare minimum. Here pharmacists train for years so can tell them your symptoms and they can tell you which over-the-counter medicine is best. Also you only end up spending a couple euros because the prices are set by the government, not pharmaceutical companies. I’ve been to the doctor twice now because of my throat and it has only cost me 40 euros each time. In the U.S. a consultation with a doctor outside of my insurance would cost me hundreds of dollars. While I would like to be rid of my cold so I can enjoy Sevilla more, Spain seems like a good country in which to be sick!


Top to Bottom, Left to Right: 1) The ceiling of the Mezquita in Córdoba 2)Mosaic in Sevilla 3) The gardens at the Alcazar in Sevilla 4) La Catedral in Sevilla 5) Sunset over the Guadalquivir in Sevilla 6) Street art in Sevilla 7)Orange trees in Barrio Santa Cruz 8) The Mezquita in Córdoba



The Group Physical

    When I arrived to China, I was surprised to hear that all CIEE students who needed to get a residence permit would need to partake in a group physical. I had thought that the visa process would be much like the American way, with lots of paperwork but loose health requirements and no need to physically present myself to anyone.

    However, after living in China for a week, I can just how wrong I was. China has strict policies to ensure extensive documentation of foreigners; police officers can request to see my passport and visa at any time, SIM card companies require me to provide my passport and have a picture taken, and the visa change process includes a strenuous physical examination.

    In this post, I’d like to talk about the physical exam.

    First, I filled out a preliminary medical form and signed my name to indicate that I didn’t have HIV, the plague, or relapse fever (whatever that is), among others. I brought along 4 passport photos, a copy of my admission letter to the (CIEE-affiliated) university, my passport and passport photocopies, and 500 RMB, and waited in a long line to get my information processed by 3 women.

    In China, government public service employees have monotonous jobs that require immense patience, since they are dealing with many people in a short period of time. Everyone wears uniforms and often even uniform accessories- hats, hairbands, shoes. These three women stamped, clipped, and otherwise authorized our papers with maximum efficiency- sending us off to the next teller for the next stage of the process.

    Down the hall, another woman checked our papers and handed us a locker key and a robe, saying, “Shirt off.” She weighed us and measured our heights in the room with others watching before we changed our clothes. I was self conscious about the numbers, even though I’m sure most American students didn’t care enough to convert the kg measurement to pounds to determine my weight. We progressed the assembly line room by room, where women with face masks and tired faces grabbed our arms to draw blood, smeared gel on our stomachs for an ultrasound, and stuck suction cups to our chests for god-knows-what test. I entered each room not knowing which test would be performed, and was rarely spoken to, besides the occasional, “Robe off” “Sleeve up” “Face front.” Since I’m afraid of needles, I was visibly shaken up when I walked in the blood test room and saw the needles, but the nurse didn’t register my fear, and just performed the test. To these nurses, I was just another person who needed a test done- over and over, day in and day out. I might as well have gotten my physical done by machines. Kinda creepy!

    I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is- I guess just to show an interesting side to China! I didn't expect to undergo a process like this. I can’t quite capture the feeling that the group physical gave me, but it was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

Reasons for my Gap Year

I had a few reasons for taking a gap year:

1. I had worked very hard in high school and needed a break

2. I was interested in learning a language

3. I wanted to learn how to live on my own

but I'm not sure I really knew what I was getting into! So, here's my take on how those motivations have played out in my gap year. 

1. Classes here are difficult and long- although the material is doable, the Chinese style of teaching is to bombard the students with a lot of material and expect memorization, which method I am not used to.  I do study less than I did in high school, but it is a different kind of studying.  My gap year is a lot of work- not so much the break I was hoping for.  However, I like studying, and I'm starting to think maybe I didn't need such a big break from school in the first place!

2. I'm still interested in learning a language- that part of my gap year has fulfilled my expectations!

3. I expected independence, but I also expected a certain level of support that I haven't yet found here in Shanghai. Now that it is between semesters, I am living in an international students dorm on campus.  I have been quite busy this month (taking harp lessons, tutoring, working), but it is still difficult to fill my time when I am on campus. I am responsible for all of my meals, meetings, budget, etc.  It's definitely cool to be in complete control of my schedule.

My reasons for taking a gap year may not still be totally relevant, but I like my gap year so far! It's not quite what I was expecting, but I'm learning a lot about what I am looking for in the future. 



Hi there! My name is Maggie and I’m a recipient of CIEE’s Blogging and Social Media Scholarship. I’m eighteen years-old and live in Berkeley, California. I mostly live in Berkeley with my mom and my cat but also see my dad who lives in Chico, CA. Next year I’m attending Northwestern University, just outside of Chicago. I am trying to absorb as much sunshine as possible in hopes that it will last me four years of cold and wind.

I will address why I took a gap year in greater detail later on, but in short I’ve found that I tend to sideline all other interests in favor of academic work and I wanted to take the time before college to pursue interests that I truly love.

My intent for my gap year was/is to pursue journalism, travel, and learn Spanish. First semester I lived with family in Concord, Massachusetts while working as a freelance writer for a group of local newspapers. I got a lot of hands-on, journalism experience while also building my resume. I’m back in Berkeley for the holidays and leave for Seville in a week and a half. I chose CIEE’s Seville Language & Culture Gap Year Abroad program because of its emphasis on learning Spanish, Seville’s vibrant culture and its proximity to both Western Europe and Northern Africa. I took Spanish throughout middle school and was quite good at it; I probably would be fluent now if I had stuck with it. Alas, I decided to take Latin because my friend was taking it and I wanted to seem precocious. Though Latin was interesting, and will probably help me to learn Spanish, no one speaks Latin in this millenium.

I’m incredibly excited (and a bit nervous) for my program in Seville. My goals for the semester are to become (at least) proficient in Spanish, step out of my comfort zone, meet new people, and enjoy myself.

First and foremost I’m going to Spain to learn Spanish. Obviously I can do that in college but being immersed abroad will really speed up the process. In middle school I excelled at comprehension but struggled with composition, so I really want to focus on speaking and writing.

This whole semester is going to be out of my comfort zone, 5848 miles from my comfort zone to be exact. I’m familiar with travelling abroad solo, but I expect new people, places and languages to throw me off, even if only at first.

I’m excited to meet new people from different backgrounds and learn about their life and culture. Most importantly I want to have some fun and enjoy myself!

¡Hasta luego!


greatest hits (self roast post)

Well, my time here in Japan is coming to a close and I’m honestly really upset about it. I mean, it hasn’t actually hit me that I’m leaving, but the thought of leaving makes me sad. So, instead of dwelling on my sadness, I want to share some of my greatest hits from the past three months in the land of the rising sun.


A classic. Thinking about the major things that impact my life and the fact that I am not sponsored by 7/11 at this point is a little hurtful since I’m probably their #1 customer at the store in my neighborhood so @ the 7/11 in Maihama if you’re reading this...


I literally took this picture last night. (note: 7/11)


Seen in Harajuku. This picture really resonates with me. And for that reason, I set it as my header picture on Line.


Casual Akira manga on the wall of a construction site. I love Tokyo.


This is a picture I took of myself the day I was bored and had nothing to do so I went and got my ears pierced. I decided against posting the blurry zoomed-in pictures of my ears that I sent to my mom here, so this is the next best thing. Just sharing an event that happened on the same day. Afterwards, I got a kebab at my favorite place in Shibuya, so that’s probably worth mentioning in itself.


The day I realized I can actually see Mt. Fuji from where I live. It only took me three months to realize it wasn’t some other random mountain out there in the distance... #smart


My friends took me out to dinner, but like, plot twist: I had to catch the fish we were going to eat... really embracing myself as a fisher. Can’t tell if that pun was intended and honestly it’s been 2 months so I can’t bring myself to ask my friends anymore.


I mean.... it just be like that sometimes.


I went to Rainforest Cafe for the first time in maybe 10 years, so I think everything else comes second to the amazing experience I had that night.


Not entirely sure if I knew I was getting my picture taken, but I do remember being hungry. This is such a Mood.


Hi MTV, welcome to my crib.


Aaaaand I’m just gonna close this off with the picture that made the cut to be in my hairdresser’s instagram story from my post-cut-photoshoot (because yes, that’s a thing that happened). 

I hope you all enjoyed this post of me poking fun at myself as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Really, these past months have been an absolute blast and while I find it difficult to say goodbye, I know I will be back. I wanted to make my last blog post for this semester funny and personal, by sharing some experiences that have not come up in other blog posts (for obvious reasons). There is more to life as a gap student than the things I am prompted to write about every month. The idea of blogging is to document what goes on while abroad, so this is it, everyone! This is what my life is like. Mostly revolving around food, although sometimes it’s just me making a fool of myself. It’s great. 

I'm interested to see other gap student’s ~daily life~ pictures like this. What kind of stuff have you been up to for the past couple months that you haven’t shared yet, whether because of irrelevance or just because you haven’t thought about posting a blog about it?

I’ll be back in March, so see you all in Shanghai! Until then, happy holidays everyone, and have a great new year.

it's a choice

The choice to take a gap year is, obviously, different for everybody. It takes a lot of consideration and several variables to even begin considering if taking a year between high school and college is right for you. On the senior-year timeline, I think that my choice to take a gap year was made kind of late in the game, as the option was never really on the table for me until a few months before decision day. It was a lot to consider- I had applied to several schools, found out about a new program at certain schools (none of which I had previously applied to), and was offered a gap year. There was a lot for me to choose from and I was overwhelmed. What it really came down to was what I really thought would be best for me, not only in my academics, but also in my life.

When the idea of a gap year was initially proposed to me, my parents had mentioned that there is no other time in my life where I will be this young and be able to live in another country. Living abroad is something I aim to do post-graduation, but it’s different when you’re 18/19 versus 23/24. I think that idea really solidified my decision to take a gap year. Extra time to spend traveling. Extra time to experience life. To do things I can’t do in America. That’s what I wanted. Of course, there’s more to my gap year than that. I wanted a program that would help me with my classes once I got to college, and would focus on something I’m interested in. Finding a gap year focused on language and culture was the perfect fit for me. Additionally, I decided that this new language program I had only found out about in February was something I really wanted to do. It would be a waste to study the same language at another college if I wouldn’t get the intended result- fluency. And that’s what this language program would afford me. After being waitlisted for the school with the language program I was aiming to get into, I decided just to defer my application until the next cycle. I accepted admission to another school, but deferred the entrance until next year. It was at that point that I knew I would be taking a gap year for sure. I wasn’t worried about getting into the other school, it was just a stressful wait.

In the beginning, I wasn’t completely on board with the idea of taking a gap year. Yes, I liked the thought of being able to spend time abroad, but I was a little bit apprehensive about being a year behind my peers who would be entering college in the fall. As one of the older students in my grade already, it was hard for me to wrap my head around being so much older than my classmates. After a while of thinking about it, I realized nobody actually really cares and I shouldn’t either. In college, you mingle with people from every year. Plus, it’s not like I’m the only person taking a gap year! Plenty of people do it. I decided I should be thinking about myself. I can be selfish in a situation like this. It is, after all, my life. I would hate to regret not taking this time to study abroad and to further myself as an individual.

Over the summer, I really began to psych myself up about the program. There were a lot of questions still left unanswered, but I wanted to get excited! Things were a little confusing to me at first with the way this program works, so there was a bit of an adjustment period. And I won’t lie, I had a really difficult first month, as I am the only gap year student in Japan. Still, I was able to find ways to help myself out of that situation and make the best of my few months here. An experience like this is bound to be a struggle in some aspect anyway, it just comes with the package. Being able to figure out the issue and work with it is the first step in being able to have the time of your life. I love the class I am taking at the language school because of its fast pace and ability to teach new things every day. I also love the fact that I am in Tokyo, probably my favorite city in the world. Overall, I believe I made the right decision to take a gap year. While it has been only two months, it feels like a lot longer. So much has happened within the past 2 months that I can’t believe my time here in Japan is almost over. Im absolutely thrilled that I made the decision to take a gap year.

On Independence

Here in Shanghai, although I have friends, teachers, and a Chinese host family, I am ultimately on my own. I can choose to leave the house in the middle of the night to go get a snack or early in the morning to take a day trip, or I can choose to stay in bed all day (although those days are super unproductive), and no-one can tell me I can’t. At home, although I’m 18 and technically an adult, my parents make all the rules. So, I’d say the biggest difference between living in America and living in Shanghai is in my homes.

Since my host parents here in China treat me as an adult tenant, rather than one of their own children, they have very few rules for me to follow. Of course, I respect their privacy, help them keep the house clean, and am conscious to not disturb them if I come home late, but for the most part, I am on my own. It’s refreshing to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want, since I am an adult and they do not have the power to tell me I can’t. Plus, living in a big city is crazy! There is so much to do and I constantly want to be out on my feet exploring.

However, at home, my relationship with my parents and family is very different. I live in their house, and therefore must ask permission to do most things, like to watch TV, go for a run, or meet up with a friend. Since I live in a small town, there aren’t many opportunities to ~do~ things outside the house, except maybe go for a walk in the woods or bike around, so I generally stay inside and spend time with my family.

Being so independent does have its downsides though. I love the feeling of being on my own, but it is disappointing when my host family goes out to dinner or does other family activities without me. My not treating them like true parents has resulted in them not treating me like one of their children, and I find myself excluded quite often.

Recently, Thanksgiving happened in America. This holiday is my family’s favorite, and we spend the entire day together in the living room eating snacks, watching the Macy’s Day Parade and dog show, and setting up our dining room with our fanciest plates and silverware. This Thanksgiving, my family Skyped me and promised to remake my favorite Thanksgiving foods when I return home for winter break, but the holiday was still quite lonely on my own. I’m excited to see my sisters and parents, and together watch cheesy Christmas movies, do puzzles by a lit fireplace, and spend entire days baking holiday treats.

Maybe this independence is less about being in Shanghai and more about being an adult, but it was a bit of a shock to me all the same. This winter, I will spend lots of time with my family, and then return to Shanghai for more solo adventures!