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My College Decision Journey: Gap Year and Beyond

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University of Massachusetts blogger Xenia stands along the windows of the Integrative Learning Center

After graduating high school, I was flooded with a million questions about what I wanted to do with my life. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I saw was one huge question mark where my face was supposed to be, much like high school seniors everywhere.   

The first decision I made had to do with timing. I wasn’t ready start a new life right away, so after multiple conversations with my parents, friends, and school counselor, I decided to take a gap year between high school and college.

Taking a Gap Year

I spent my gap year working, auditing classes at local colleges, doing workshops in things I was passionate about, helping my family, and traveling. All these things helped me grow up and get ready to start the next chapter of my life, and, more importantly, eventually led me to the University of Massachusetts.

Another very important thing I did during that year was begin my college decision process. There are so many college choices in the world that the search can sometimes be overwhelming. One thing that really helped me narrow down my choices was making a list of what was important to me.

Location was at the top of my list. I grew up in Bolivia in what I consider the very privileged position of being to choose where I wanted to go for college. Because of the environment I grew up in, I had three basic options to consider. I could either stay in Bolivia, go the U.S., or go to Germany.

I chose the U.S. because I always felt like I was comfortable in my own skin here, which is something I never had anywhere else, not even my hometown. While choosing the U.S. narrowed down my list a little bit, I still had other things to consider.

Toward the end of my gap year, my aunt’s husband got sick, so I decided to go there and help her with the house and taking care of him. I spent about a month there, during which my aunt’s husband passed away and I decided to stay in Virginia and start at a community college there. That way I could be close to family and help my aunt adjust to a new life.

About a year later I started getting the feeling that, even though I liked Virginia, it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I realized that I had made the choice of staying there not based on what I wanted, but based on what I thought other people wanted for me. I was going to transfer after community college anyway, so I thought why not transfer to another of the 49 states? Once again, I was in the search for a college, but this time I knew that the choice had to be mine and nobody else’s.

The College Search

If one good thing came out of Virginia, let it be that being close to my family was more important to me than I had previously realized. This is why I decided to focus my college search to the New England area, where my dad had lived since 2010.

I was focused on the usual suspects of New England colleges when I stumbled onto UMass Amherst. I looked for more information about the university, and I simply fell in love. The journalism program was one of the top ones in the region, it was something my family could afford, and Amherst was the exact college town I had always dreamed about. I ended up applying to UMass Amherst and two other colleges.

I remember walking down the street and receiving an email saying that my decision letter was ready on Spire. I opened it up while still walking and, when I saw I had gotten in, I felt a sense of pride I hadn’t felt before. That’s when I decided that I would go to UMass, because if just getting accepted made feel that good, imagine it would feel like once I got there. 

Other Posts by this Author

Letter to my past self

University of Massachusetts blogger Xenia Arinez in her freshman year (at left), and her senior year (at right)

Dear freshman Xenia,

Our college journey is coming to an end pretty soon, can you believe it? At the risk of sounding like an old lady, I have to wonder where time went. These past four years have flown by, and it’s almost time we leave our safety net and begin the next part of our lives. But, am I truly me if I don’t go all sappy and retrospective about our time in college? (The answer is no, you know this, I know this, every person who’s ever known us knows this).