It seems that all my friends have been making the decision to defer their college education for a year, and I’m happy for them—I really am. But I’m not going to lie, when that call comes and they inform me of their decision to take a year off from college, the joy is bittersweet. I hear the excitement in my friends’ voices and do my best to share in their joy, but in those moments, I can’t help envying them. I guess I’m a classic case of always the broke college kid, and never the gap year student.
At this point, it’s happened so many times the I’m really starting to wonder, did I make the wrong decision by taking the road to higher learning?
Maybe it’s a crazy thing to say, but I desperately want that special moment. I want everyone close to me saying “hooray!” after I make the difficult decision of putting off the inevitable student loan debt so that I can backpack across Europe for a year instead. I can picture it now: everyone beaming proudly at me and the big smile of relief on my face.
Admittedly, I’ve looked on a little bit enviously as so many of my best friends have had their perfect bon voyage parties, hoping that someday I’d get my chance to leave behind the student loan debt and travel around without a care in the world. I came close a few times, but now I’ve been to a bon voyage party six times—six! —and I’ve still never been the reason for the celebration.
Going to all these parties and putting on a happy face as someone else gets all the attention can be difficult. I can’t help but wonder, will my mom ever get the chance to plan a party while I bask in my decision to travel the world for a year instead of accumulating student loan debt? At the party, will my parents ever get the chance to grin at me with pride as I listen to their speech about how proud they are without a care in the world? After all these years, will I ever be the one not taking out private student loans to fund my unnecessarily expensive college education?
It’s depressing to think about, but I may never hear the government say to me, “You did a great job. High-five.” All because I made the decision not to increase the already too high student loan debt of the country, while the government kicks back at their desks, completely oblivious to the struggle of college students with student loans.
Call me a dreamer, but even after taking out multiple loans for thousands and thousands of dollars I haven’t lost hope. It’s something that I’ve given lots of thought to for a long time. I still believe that someday—one extraordinary day, hopefully in the near future—I’ll be the one grinning with pride, denouncing my college education at a public university to travel the world and still have plenty of money leftover!
Oh, there I go again, getting caught up in a silly fantasy.
But how can I not think about the alternative? Every time I open my phone and see a “I’m taking a gap year” text from one of my best friends, I get the same sinking feeling. Sure, I’ll be at their celebration, but I’ll be sitting off to the side rather than being carefree and excitedly chatting with my party guests. And when the speech is given by the proud parents, I’ll be smiling and regretting my decision to accumulate student loan debt rather than contemplating how my own celebration will go.
My best friend Kaitlyn recently made the decision to take a gap year. I was happy for her, obviously, but on the one occasion I met up with her, she was so carefree and aloof, not even worried about passing or failing classes, and my heart broke. She was having the time of her life, and it was all I could do not to break down in tears thinking I might never get the chance to not care about maintaining my GPA in order to keep my scholarship or about defaulting on my student loans.
There is one silver lining, though. The next time the federal government comes knocking on my door to offer me more student loans, I know I’ll be ready to explain to them that I’ve decided to pursue the more affordable past time of traveling the world, and that maybe when they decide to make college more affordable, I’ll reconsider going back to college.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.