Washington State University, Pullman

The gap year experience: From Spain to Columbia University


Harvard encourages it. Princeton’s a big fan. From USC to MIT. The nation’s most prestigious universities are encouraging students to consider putting off college for a year in favor of much-needed downtime.

Roya Hegdahl, Columbia University student and The Tab writer, was studying in France until  she decided to pack her bags and move 500 miles southwest to Spain to take a year off from her studies.

“It was the first time I didn’t have a huge school workload, and for the first time I invested my time and energy into music which was really important to me,” Hegdahl said.

She performed at open mics, became fluent in Spanish, and pursued her interest like watercoloring.

“I taught myself how to watercolor paint and got really invested in doing poetry writing, and so it was a really important year for me to learn about myself as a person and artistically,” she said.

“Be ambitious about it and don’t hold back”

While in Spain she began applying to different universities, and eventually got accepted into Columbia University.

Hegdahl said, “I feel like I could bring something more to the table in my classes at Columbia.”


According to David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, taking a gap year …could actually help students succeed in college”

A growing number of high school seniors are burning out from riding the academic conveyor belt from preschool to university.

However, gap years should not be used to take “time off.” Hawkins says those who do decide to take a gap year  pursue personal enrichment through travel, service work or educational programs.

Hegdahl says you don’t have to be from an affluent background to take a year off. During her gap year, she found her own means to support her interests as well as travels and urges students to do the same.

“Be ambitious about it and don’t hold back,” Hegdahl said. “It’s worth taking that leap and not knowing how it’s going to end up.”