Senior Mag 2023: Taking the untraditional path: Seniors pursue gap years before resuming academic studies

August 30, 2023 — by Christina Chang
Students have diverse plans for their gap years, ranging from traveling and internships to start-ups and research.

While most students at Saratoga High go directly to 4-year colleges, a select few in the Class of 2023 have opted to take a gap year to explore other pursuits before resuming their collegiate plans.

Julian Berkowitz-Sklar

Following the path of his four older siblings before him, Julian will be taking a gap year before studying environmental science and policy at Yale University. He said he wants to be “flexible” during his gap year.

“I definitely haven’t fully planned out time and day,” Julian said. “I want it to be spontaneous.”

Still, he has three main objectives: travel abroad, secure an internship and work on conservation projects.

Julian said he will opt for hiking, backpacking and camping, as they’re more “economical” ways to travel. Though he is not yet sure where he will be traveling, his current plans entail going to Europe and Asia to work on sustainable farms.

“I’m excited to travel to as many places as I can,” Julian said. “I hope to see new cultures and meet new people.”

In addition, he aspires to land an internship in Washington D.C., working under someone from the House of Representatives or Senate to learn more about what it’s like to work in government.

Regardless of where he ends up going, Julian hopes to continue working on conservation projects during his gap year.

“High school can be very stressful. You have a lot of extracurriculars, and academics are very important,” Julian. “I think I’d benefit a lot from having a year to recuperate before going into the college atmosphere.” 

Mason Wang

Like Julian, Mason Wang will also be taking a gap year before studying computer science and psychology at Stanford University.

During the year, he plans to commit full-time to his start-up and part-time to his research.

Inspired by his mother’s work in real estate, Mason and other co-founders developed Hazel, a start-up working in the intersection between generative artificial intelligence and real estate. The Hazel operating system will automate tasks — including research, paperwork and coordination — that go into buying and selling houses.

Mason and his co-founders garnered interest from over 70 investors during their Demo Day with Pear VC, a seed-stage venture firm, on May 25.

Throughout the year, the Hazel founders will be traveling to different cities, which will help Mason “develop independence and broaden my horizon.”

Additionally, he will continue his research at Stanford’s Open Virtual Assistant Lab, where he will work on helping individuals with autism improve their social skills.

“Dedicating a full year to these pursuits will be highly beneficial and transformative for my future,” Mason said. “But balancing college on top of the startup and research simultaneously would be unmanageable, making a gap year a good choice.”

Dragon Neal

Dragon Neal (they/them) will be using their gap year to focus on hobbies, gain real-world work experience in their desired industry and potentially take classes for fun at West Valley College.

“I can focus on my interests for once,” Dragon said. “School makes that impossible.”

Dragon will be continuing their lighting work locally, both with the South Bay Musical Theatre, which they worked at this year, and the McAfee Center, which they’ve been working at since the beginning of their junior year. In these positions, they’ve helped with the lightboard program, have been asked to be an assistant lighting designer and have filled in backstage when needed.

Dragon plans to apply to Southern Oregon University, and hopes to major in theater arts with a focus on lighting after their gap year.

In a competitive academic environment, it’s “very hard to focus on yourself and your interests,” Dragon said. 

“A gap year is a really good idea for people — especially in Saratoga — to focus on what they really care about,” Dragon said.

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