Does the pipeline to adulthood rob us of our youth?

A “gap year” for focus might not be a bad thing


Claire Johnson, Feature Writer/Columnist

For almost all students nearing the end of their high school career, the question of what comes next is glaringly simple and easily answered – to go to college. For our entire lives, that’s the solution that’s been put right in our face; not only that, but any alternate answers were denounced and shamed.

If you don’t go straight to college, you’re a bum. If you get into a great university, you’re a winner!

These are the messages our society and the school system have adamantly pounded into us for our entire lives. I remember in 5th grade when the idea of taking Honors classes in Middle School was first presented to me.

Why take Honors classes in middle school? To take AP classes in high school. Why take AP classes in high school? To get into a better college. Why get into a better college? To get a better job, make more money, and have a better life. So, I ultimately can’t remember a time since age 10 that my education did not revolve around my plans for higher education, or even my future career. 

The rigorous and fast-paced educational pipeline has been refined so carefully over the years that we are all pushed through it easily, with no ability to see other life pathways unless we are rebellious enough to go against what we’ve been taught our whole lives. What if I don’t go right to school? To me, to some extent at least, the idea still feels sinful; like I’d be wasting my potential, or I’d be a disappointment. The other part of me, though, does feel rebellious enough to resent the system that has made me feel like I have no freedom and no options. Sure, my life path is laid out for me seamlessly if I consent for the ride. I’m graduating high school with a 4.4 GPA that I tortured myself for and could easily get into many state universities. I’ve even already gotten a large tuition grant based on my academic performance.

So, let’s say I take these great opportunities. I go to Stanislaus State, the local state university for me, I get my four-year Business degree like my mom did, and go work at her firm. Perfect! I’m all done. Right?

The thing that worries me about and subsequently averts me from this plan is the lack of personal say I have in such a universe. It’s natural to follow the pipeline we’ve been placed into until it places us into a pragmatic job that makes us a functional member of society. And really, there’s nothing at all wrong with it: it’s practical, honorable, and simple. It gets us where we need to be fast in a culture that values speed more than most things. But where do I come into play? I feel like my personal interests, curiosities, and dreams get crushed if I do exactly what I’m told. Will I still go to college? Of course I will. I will most likely not even take a year off. I’ve always loved to learn and valued education, and my anxieties about wasting my life will not change those things. But these anxieties just show me that teenagers should be allowed more options. A year (or a few) off from school can show a young person many crucial things about themselves, their dreams, their skills, their ideal direction in life, and perhaps most importantly, their passions. 

The setup that a 10-year-old girl can get swept into a pipeline that carries her right through to an adult career feels like one that creates a loss of youth, dreams, and choice. If a student wants to go directly to college and knows their ideal career already, it is not in any way third-rate; it in fact shows that they are very passionate about one field already and will be very successful in it. I envy those types of people. But I also dream of a day when a near high school graduate who feels a bit more aimless, like myself, can, without judgment or shame, take a year off to travel, work different jobs, meet new people, or go wherever their heart takes them to figure out their true passions, and return to the educational system with more direction and sureness.