Transformed by a Gap Year: Choosing Mental Health Over Timelines

Mental Health Awareness Month, which takes place in May and aligns with the conclusion of the academic year, can be an extremely challenging and stressful time for students. Our students often express their appreciation for mentors who have recently experienced similar difficulties and understand the hardships they are currently enduring.

Mentor Reflections is our series where we hear from our mentor’s first-hand experience.
Today, we are sharing a reflection from Katie Fong (Stanford ‘22), a Curious Cardinal Mentor, regarding the gap year she took during her high school years. Read her thoughts below

Katie Fong

Photo: Katie Fong (Stanford '22), Curious Cardinals Mentor

In a world that emphasizes constant productivity and adhering to timelines, I made a bold decision that changed my life. I took a gap year, not to travel the world or explore exotic adventures, but to focus on something equally important: my mental health.

While most people take gap years after high school, I embarked on mine during what should have been my junior year. As a high-achieving student, balancing academics, extracurriculars, and sports was overwhelming. Stress had me on edge, obsessing over even the smallest mistakes. Anxiety distanced me from my loved ones, and I kept my struggles hidden, fearing judgment.

Taking a gap year wasn't an easy decision. Initially, I felt like I was letting down everyone around me, including myself. The life I envisioned felt like it was slipping away. But what I couldn't see as a teenager was that the gap year I was taking was helping me get to that life.


The idea of needing to live by a set 'timeline' was a trap that forced me to sacrifice my well-being. Taking a break from school allowed me to seek the help I needed to truly thrive, not just survive. I prioritized building sustainable habits and stress-management tools that didn't involve self-punishment or shame.

Having now graduated from Stanford University, I reflect on the courageous decision I made. Taking a gap year not only saved my life but also reignited my drive, passion, and confidence. Looking back, I am grateful to my teenage self for recognizing the value of her own life and having the strength to prioritize self-care.

Remember, it's okay to break free from the societal expectations and timelines that can trap us. Embracing the power of a gap year for mental health can lead to incredible personal growth and a stronger foundation for the future.

- Katie 

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