Dear Dr. London

Tune in for a one-on-one session with everyone’s favorite school psychologist, Dr. London. This week, Dr. London offers up advice on what to do after a gap year.

Gap or Cap?

Dear Dr. London,

I’m 19 years-old, am currently on a gap year, and don’t want to go to college next year. I believe that college at 18 is a total social construct, and overall feel it’s not the most effective use of my time next year. I’d rather spend my time traveling, volunteering, and learning about myself, other cultures, the world, and the cosmos- all activities that I believe would be more beneficial to my life at this point than studying in a university. Any advice?

Questioning the Universe

Dear Questioning,

I totally understand your conundrum.  If I hear you right, after a meaningful gap year in Israel, you are wondering why college should be the inevitable next step. After all, I think that for many of us, “go to college” is a mantra we tell ourselves from a very young age and most of our formative years of education are perhaps unfortunately solely focused on the goal of getting into college, which can really stand in the way of cultivating a love of learning.  Historically, the Jewish people have always valued higher education and have placed an emphasis on higher learning.  Jewish historian and blogger, Andrew Seligson, explains that after the destruction of the second temple, the Jewish people had to reinvent and reorganize their culture so that Jewish life would be centered around the synagogue and Yeshiva – places which would not only be a place for prayer but for learning too. Seligson writes, “Now, although many American Jewish people are relatively assimilated into mainstream culture, we retain the sense that being learned is a sign of Jewish integrity and morality, of being able to contribute to society through intellectual labor.”  At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “But why do I need college to pursue my intellectual dreams?” especially if you see college as just a social construct.  And yes, it is true that you certainly do not need college to be successful in life or to be an intellectual: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey are all college dropouts.


But, you asked for my advice so here it is: (and  I hope it’s not just the nagging Jewish mother in me shouting), “GO TO COLLEGE!”

The case for college (and no, your parents did not give me any money to write this):

College might not be about the classes you take. Sadly, most liberal arts education programs don’t actually prepare you for a job or profession once you graduate, and many college graduates need to pursue a graduate degree to get that type of specialization for the workplace. That being said, the college experience is what you make of it.  You can choose to take difficult courses that will challenge and enrich you or you can choose to take Intro to Judaism and sail away with an easy A.  You have the chance to explore subject areas you’ve never been taught or really deepen and intensify your knowledge in an area that really interests you. In the process, you will be forced to improve your writing and communication skills which is essential in the world or work and life beyond college. College courses, especially the smaller seminars, also allow for the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to discourse with people of different political, religious, socio-economic, and ethnic backgrounds which can be an education in and of itself.

Second, college is not just about the degree you earn, the classes you take, what you glean academically, or your GPA, but what you stand to gain socially. It’s about the people you meet, the professors you build relationships with and the doors that are opened to you by alumni. You stand to create very deep bonds with friends because you live, work and play together. These friends are likely to be lifelong friends, future business partners or investors and/or possibly a future spouse! You also have access to talented and gifted people who you simply wouldn’t have access to at this stage in your life because gifted and talented people comprise university systems (your peers, professors, faculty and advisers).  College provides the opportunity to create social capital that you might not be able to create if you opt not to go.

Third, you contest that college is just a social construct, but it is a construct that the majority buys into and accepts. Education history is probably the first thing a potential employer looks for on a resume and one of the first things he or she asks about in an interview.  Sometimes your college pedigree can open doors for you, get you an interview or establish alumni connections.  So, unless you’re about to take over the family business or you’ve just won the lottery, it will probably be much harder for you to start a career without a college degree.

Fourth, college is FUN and may be the one time in your young adult life where you can design your own schedule, sleep in on weekdays, pursue your interests and live with your friends.  Don’t pass this opportunity to enjoy this special and fleeting time of your life.

Finally, as for your desire to “spend my time traveling, volunteering, and learning about myself, other cultures, the world, and the cosmos,” going to college should not prevent you from doing all of these things. If you want to travel and see the world, study abroad or travel during summer vacations.  If you want to volunteer, there are always volunteer opportunities on campus through Hillel, sororities and fraternities as well as Alternative Spring Break. Most colleges pride themselves on their philanthropy, so get involved on campus or in your new community outside your college walls.  College can be a microcosm of the greater world. You can try things and experiment with ideas with very talented and smart people who are all concentrated in just a few square miles of one another.  Run for student government, join a club, play a club sport, pledge a fraternity, become a research assistant for a professor, or become an activist on campus; the opportunities are endless.  Going to college does not have to mean putting your dreams on hold; it may even provide you the space and time to really think through what it is you really want to do.  Don’t take my word for it, just ask Mark Zuckerburg what he was busy toiling away with in college (the inception of Facebook took place while he was at Harvard). Other famous inventions developed by undergrads: 3-D glasses (Edwin Land -Harvard), Napster (Shawn Fanning- Northeastern University), Air Guitar IPhone App (James Anthony and Edward Marks -Stanford University). The list really goes on and on.

So, in closing,  if it’s not going to be a huge financial burden on you and your family, pack your bags and head back to the States.  Israel will be waiting and wanting a college graduate.

Need advice? Have a burning question you’re afraid to ask? Send your questions to Dr. London at slondon@rasg.org and it may just be appear in next week’s issue. No question or topic is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. 

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