Not “Time Off”: How Students Spent Their Gap Years Working

There are plenty of myths about taking a gap year, and students who have taken a gap year are eager to debunk one in particular: A gap year, they say, isn’t just a year off.

“I think a lot of people come to school saying ‘oh I took a gap year’ and people subconsciously think ‘oh you took time off,’ and that’s almost never the case in my experience,” said Clara Merrill ‘22.

Merrill, for one, spent her gap year working as a crew coach. She herself had been rowing since the eighth grade, and when it came time to apply to college, she wasn’t ready to give up the sport quite yet. So, she decided to give back to the independent crew team she had once been a part of and share her passion with girls who had never rowed before.

“All those hours of being coached [as a varsity rower], it was really cool to put that to use and head out with a boat of girls who never rowed before and hope we don’t flip and teach them how to take some strokes,” said Merrill.

The job meant driving an hour from home to the team’s practice and spending a couple hours a day coaching. She was well-prepared for the job: she herself used to train six days a week, and often left school early to make it to practice. However, she said there was still plenty to learn from coaching.

“It was a lot of self-regulation and making sure you are doing the proper job when no one is behind you watching out for you,” she said.

And that’s something that has helped her now that’s she’s here at Haverford.

“I think my gap year was super beneficial for me coming to Haverford because I got a break from regulated school, but I wasn’t getting a break from responsibility,” she said.

For Li Hermosillo Rojas ‘22, another student who worked during their gap year, that sentiment seems to ring true.

Hermosillo Rojas’ journey to taking a gap year, however, is a bit different. Hermosillo Rojas started their freshman year at Haverford but due to a variety of mental health and financial issues, taking a gap year seemed like a good option. So, in November of their first semester at Haverford, Hermosillo Rojas returned home to Texas, started using online therapy, and began looking for a job that could help pay some of the bills.

Hermosillo Rojas’ job was demanding. They worked long hours – once up to 76 hours in a week – packaging eye medicine at a company near their home. It was often meticulous work, doing everything from checking the medicine’s expiration date to packaging the bottles. In their spare time, Hermosillo Rojas would read or brush up on other skills using Khan Academy, trying to prepare for the transition back to Haverford. They also sent monthly updates to the first year dean, but it wasn’t until April or May that they made the final decision to return to Haverford.

When Hermosillo Rojas returned to school this year, they still experienced a big transition back to campus. “Coming from somewhere where people were saving every penny and doing overtime every week, every day, because that’s what they had to do for their family, to this place where there’s so much money” was an adjustment, Hermosillo Rojas said.

Still, Hermosillo Rojas said that the gap year was a worthwhile experience and that it shed new light on Haverford as well. While working for a year proved to be beneficial, they also said that they recognize the importance of receiving a college education, even though that comes with its own challenges.

“Yeah it’s going to be hard academically. Yeah I haven’t had all the resources other people have,” Hermosillo Rojas said. “But now I know what I would be giving up…There was definitely co-workers [at the company] that had been there all their lives because they didn’t have the qualifications to go up the ladder, so having a college education from somewhere like Haverford, which is amazing, it would be giving up a lot.”

Read more about Haverford students’ experiences taking gap years in the Clerk’s mini-series, including articles on working and traveling.