My Gap Year after 12th Std

(For the past few years, I have been encouraging 12th Std. students to take a gap year, and I usually give the example of Nishchala Bhandari who took a gap year and was very glad to have done it. For the benefit of other students, I asked her to write an article about her experiences.

This is the article is written by Nishchala, who took a gap year after doing her 12th Std in Pune, India, got a lot of interesting and valuable experiences, and later joined New York University (NYU), where she is now a second year student. She hopes that this article will nudge other 12th Std. students and their parents to consider taking a year off before college.

Update: After this article was published, Nishchala had this further update: “My experience with the gap year also greatly helped me get scholarship for NYU. In case any undergrad students are looking for how to get their applications to stand out in order to attain scholarships, a gap year might be an interesting place to start.”)

When I finished 12th grade, I had no idea what I wanted to do. The year seemed to have spun into such a blur of fast forward motion—with relentless examinations, endless stress, unnerving conversations with adults on my future—that by the time it was time to apply for college, I felt lost. I didn’t feel mature or skilled enough to leave home and jump into the even more tiresome rat race of college. I remember struggling to write my CommonApp essay in October—I felt like I was missing something.

Around December 2013, about a month before college applications were due, my dad—knowing how lost I felt—suggested that I take a gap year: a year off before starting college—no school; no classes; just a year to take a break and do whatever I wanted. Initially I was completely opposed to the idea. Why would I waste a year of my life? To top it off, I didn’t personally know anyone who had ever taken a gap year—what would people think of it? What would colleges think of it? It seemed like an outrageous thing to do. But finally my dad convinced me to read up on it before jumping to a decision.

Researching online on the gap year shifted my thinking. Although a gap year wasn’t all that popular, there were quite a few people who had done it, and their accomplishments that they published online were inspiring. In fact—and to my surprise—I found that many colleges in the US encourage students to defer their admissions and take a year off before starting college. Big shot universities like Harvard and MIT actually write, in their admission letters itself, that students should seriously consider taking a year off (you can read more about what Harvard has to say about gap years here). Harvard writes that its students who took a gap year “are effusive in their praise. Many speak of their year away as a ‘life-altering’ experience or a ‘turning point,’ and most feel that its full value can never be measured and will pay dividends the rest of their lives.(…) Virtually all would do it again” (Harvard). After filling out notebooks with lists weighing the pros and cons of a gap year, and after reading as many articles I could get my hands on, I felt inspired and finally decided that I too would take a year off before going to college.

The decision was definitely not easy; there were times when I questioned whether or not I had made the right choice. The majority of the reactions that I got from my relatives and friends was coated with absolute disapproval. And the constant Facebook updates of my friends celebrating their newly found college lives only made it worse and made me feel like I was behind. But by the end of the year, I felt so refreshed and fulfilled that I too could proudly say that my gap year was a ‘life altering’ decision.

In the larger scheme of things, a year here or there doesn’t really matter. Of course though, taking a gap year has its risks. If you don’t use it well you might fall into a year long pattern of laziness which can be difficult to get out of. But if you do use it well, the effects can be rewarding! Since college applications are right around the corner, it is the perfect time for students to think about taking a year off. To help with this thinking, I’ve written about my year as an example. Although—please keep in mind—there is no such thing as a “typical” gap year since you can do pretty much anything; the sky is the limit! Below are brief write ups about the activities that I did during my gap year, and my overall experiences:

Fellowship with Make A Difference

In 11th and 12th grade, I used to volunteer as a teacher with the NGO Make A Difference (MAD); I would teach English to a class of 10 underprivileged children at the SOS center in Pune. So during my gap year (starting from early June 2014), I decided to take this a step further and applied to lead the education program—called ‘Ed Support’—for MAD in my city. My responsibilities as Ed Support fellow entailed recruiting a team of 60 volunteer teachers and 8 volunteer interns. Our team worked over the academic year (2014-2015) to teach English, Math and Science to approximately 120+ underprivileged children in shelter homes in Pune.

My fellowship journey has undoubtedly been one of the most brilliant and meaningful experiences I’ve been a part of. I had never before led a team at that scale, and I had never before felt like I was making such a positive impact on society at that scale. The sheer work that was required to establish the base for MAD Pune—we had about 850+ applications in 2014—meant that almost every day of my year went into working on the Ed Support program: conducting teacher trainings, interviewing applicants, reviewing classes etc. The journey was challenging, even frustrating many times, since the problems of poverty that the children were trapped in seemed too deep and too complex for a bunch of volunteers in their 20s to solve. But the experience taught us compassion, optimism and resilience, and how to take challenges one day at a time. In addition to this I got to scratch the surface of positive leadership—how to connect with people, motivate a team, skillfully resolve disputes, how to innovate—and learn brilliant skills that would help me throughout life.

Part Time Job at “Expression & Freedom Speech and Drama Academy”

In addition to my work with MAD, I was doing a part time job with E&F Academy (from February 2014 onward). I worked as a teacher assistant, and mentored several classes of students ranging from ages 8 to 13 who were learning poetry and drama. I wrote the annual script for the drama class, helped design the annual poetry, speech and drama curriculum, created weekly lesson plans for classes as well as designed the annual poetry book which was a collation of poems written by the students across the year. The classes provided a spectacular platform for me to channel and share my passion for drama and poetry; I learned the art of how to make teaching more creative and interesting by incorporating the magic of theater and poems. Furthermore, mentoring the classes helped me loose my inhibitions and transformed me into a more confident, creative and self-aware person.

Working on bits of the E&F curricula was a part of most of my days over the year. Having a paying part time job heightened my sense of responsibility, organization and accountability; it was not only an invaluable experience to include in my college applications, but it also equipped me with life skills which will stay with me when I get a professional job later on.

Shadowing PhD Students Majoring in the Field of Biological Sciences

For about a month and a half (from February-March 2014), I went to Chandigarh to shadow PhD students who were researching in the field of biology. After 12th grade, one of the potential majors I was thinking of pursuing was biological sciences, but I didn’t know exactly what that would entail, nor did I know which field of biological science I wanted to pursue; I wanted to get a first hand experience of what exactly researching in the field of biological science meant. What would I do on a daily basis? Would I have to work alone or with people? What kind of lifestyle would I lead? What kind of jobs could I get with a biology major, and how would they look like on a day to day basis?

To attempt to answer these questions, I went to IISER and Punjab University where I met with students pursuing Masters and PhDs in different fields of science. I got a chance to shadow, interact and ask them questions about their research experience and overall experience in their careers. The exposure was eye opening; research in the field of biology was extremely different from what I had in mind—it was nothing like what I imagined I would be doing when I used to study biology in school. I quickly realized that research was not an area that matched my personality, and perhaps it was time for me to think of a different field, or perhaps a different major entirely.

The year of down-time I got, away from the conventional lifestyle of school and classes and college applications, gave me perspective. Having that extra time to heavily focus on helping the underprivileged—a cause that I now know I want to continue working for in my career—and getting that extra time to teach my hobbies to my students at E&F—as well as learn from them—would not have been possible without the gap year I took. I felt like I had accomplished something real and meaningful for the first time in my life.

By the end of the year I felt rejuvenated, bold, and better equipped to handle whatever was to come next. I was ready to jump back into the rat race of fluctuating GPAs, examinations, deadlines, projects, college major selection, identity crises and everything in between. Even more, the time off made me feel more connected with myself; the choices I made over the year, the kinds of activities I engaged in and my journey of leading such a large team sculpted me and taught me skills and lessons that no school textbook could ever teach.

I remember hearing a quote from a play that went something like this: “It’s important to know what you want to be when your grow up, but it’s far more important to know who you want to be.” In our monotonous routines of school, examinations and classes, we often forget this. My year off implored me to introspect on what kind of person I was, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go. And now that I’m done with my first year of studying in New York University, I feel a transformation within me, and I can confidently say that I made the right investment in myself by choosing to take that year off.

So whether you ultimately decide to take a gap year or not, I urge you to—at the very least—consider the value it may add to you; the possibilities of all that you can do with your year might mark the beginning of a journey truly exciting.

Useful Links

A few websites I found helpful while researching on gap years:

About the Author – Nishchala Bhandari

Nishchala is going to begin her sophomore year in NYU. Her major is undecided, but she’s leaning towards Economics. She loves to photograph, listen to music, bake, read and travel. She is also weirdly obsessed with staplers. If you have any questions for her, you can contact her at

After 12th please send your child away from home – preferably a hostel

If you have a child in 12th std, who will go to college this year, please do him/her a favor and send him/her out of the home. Preferably to a hostel. Preferably to a different city.

By making your child stay at home after 12th, you’re just holding him/her back. The only reason to keep them home is if you cannot afford a hostel.

The greatest increase in maturity, exposure, worldliness, and in general the skills needed to make it in the real world, happen when the child starts staying away from the parents. The values and culture of the parents are important for the child when the child is a child, but at the age of 17, it is time to let them experience what other people think like, that there can be thought processes that are different from their parents’ but are equally valid.

I would like to state here strongly that there is huge value in staying away from home. Trust me. Or don’t – instead take the word of Child Psychiatrist Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, who recently said this:

One sincere advice to students finishing their 12th std from Pune.

If you think you are any good, think beyond Pune. get out of this city and parental home and explore world.

Getting ALL of your educatuon in one city, entire life in one locality with same bunch of friends is a serious HANDICAP.

Globalization will chew you up, spit out the bones and you wont even know it, happily sipping coffee at Vaishali and eating Sabudana wada.

Wake up and run away….save your youth and your life.


I’ve been preaching this to my friends/family for the last 15 years, and have heard a number of excuses from them as to why they don’t want to send their child away from home. Here is a sampler of those, and why I believe they’re wrong:

“But the hostels are so dirty!”

It’s the parents who’re often more squeamish than the children about such things. In any case, children adjust pretty quickly, especially when everybody else around them is in the same situation. And, let them go through a little hardship, a little inconvenience. It builds character.

And if you really, really want your child to be a 5-star-and-AC-only kind of a person, then go ahead the set them up with a posh apartment near college – you’ll find enough other children in a similar situation who’d be willing to share the rent. That’s still better than staying at home. (Although, I would still say that staying in a hostel is far better.)

“What will s/he eat? The food there is so bad!”

Are you kidding me?! You’ll withhold important personal growth from your child because s/he is too delicate to eat the same kind of food that millions of other kids eat? Please raise more resilient children.

“It’s so much cheaper if s/he stays at home”

It’s so much cheaper if s/he doesn’t get an education, but you don’t want that, right? Like I said right in the beginning, if you really can’t afford it financially, then staying at home is perfectly acceptable. But in many cases, this is not true. And the “so much cheaper” argument is simply a different way of saying that you don’t really see how much value is added by staying away from home.

“If it was a boy, I would consider it. But for a girl in a big city, I don’t know…”

Instead of protecting your daughter from the outside world and keeping her safely ensconced at home, you’re better off teaching her the basics of how to take care of herself, avoid shady situations, shady places, shady friends, and to take good decisions.

Also, most parents won’t say this to me directly, but I know that in some cases, clearly there is a concern that the newfound freedom will allow the girl to indulge in “inappropriate” behavior. The answer to this is:

  1. Accept the fact that times have changed, and this generation’s values are going to be very different from yours’. Trying to impose your values on your child will actually cause more problems than the “inappropriate” behavior itself will cause.

  2. Trust your daughter. You’ve taught her values for 17 years, and you have to hope that they’ve taken root. It is now out of your hands. If she’s gotten the right values, sending her to live by herself isn’t going to cause any problems. And if she has not, then keeping her at home isn’t really going to prevent the problems.

And, by the way, your child is almost guaranteed to have a girlfriend/boyfriend, whether you know about it or not, whether you like it or not, and whether s/he ultimately goes in for an arranged marriage or not. Just accept this fact, and things will be easier for everyone concerned.

And the worst mistake (which I’ve seen parents make) is to choose a not-so-good college near home, instead of a good college that’s away from home. That’s a double whammy – denying the child good formal education (academics & reputation & connections of a good college), and good informal education (staying away from homw).

Side note: If your child is considering engineering, and is confused about which branch/college, this older article I wrote might help

Real meaning of “Insurance is the Subject Matter of Solicitation” or how everyone on the web can be wrong

In which, I try to understand what the phrase “Insurance is the Subject Matter of Solicitation” means, and why every ad has it, and I discover how the blogs of 20 different finance websites (written by marketing types by doing a Google search followed by a copy-paste-in-your-own-words) can be wrong.

Summary: Most Indian finance websites give a ridiculous explanation for this phrase. This phrase, which is found in all insurance advertisements in India, was mandated by IRDA, and it means basically that: “insurance is the product that is being sold by this advertisement, and not any thing else.” The intention is to prevent advertisements from being misleading, and trying to trick consumers into buying insurance while advertising something else (like investment). As of November 4th, 2015, this requirement has been removed by IRDA.


I’ve always wondered why every insurance ad states, “Insurance is the Subject Matter of Solicitation,” and what exactly does this statement mean. Clearly, many other people have had the same question. Because a Google search revealed that many, many websites claim to explain this.

However, I found that all the explanations seemed a little silly. Here is an example:

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority has made it mandatory for insurance companies, agents and brokers to announce clearly in all their communication that insurance is the subject matter of solicitation. Translation: insurance isn’t a ready-made standard product like say, a bar of chocolate, that can be sold outright, it has to be discussed, understood. The right offering suited to your specific needs and requirements has to be considered taking into accounts, the terms, conditions and exclusions. Companies can only “offer to sell” it. And what changes with the addition of this simple word?

By way of including this small line, insurance becomes a product that you-the-customer must evaluate carefully after you have understood all its features, rules, conditions and exclusions. The onus of buying an insurance policy with its terms lies with the customer solely.

Or, to quote this Quora answer:

So the meaning of Insurance is a subject matter of solicitation is that Insurance is a financial product which buyer has to ASK FOR, it cant be sold.

Similar answers exist on many other websites. In fact, you could search the internet for hours and find articles and articles that give this same explanation.

Doesn’t anyone else see that the “translation” makes no sense – grammatically or legally? Words have meanings – especially in legal contexts. You can’t just make a sentence mean anything you want it to mean. How does “insurance is the subject matter of solicitation” end up meaning “insurance cannot be sold, the customer must ask for it”?? And even if the sentence did mean that, doesn’t anyone find this totally ridiculous? Have you ever “asked for” insurance, or have you mostly just bought one of the products that the insurance company has in their portfolio? Are our lawmakers really this stupid? And if they are, how come nobody is pointing to any proof (a law or a regulation) which mandates this?

It just bothered me so much that I decided to start digging until I found out where this phrase originated, and what was the intended meaning. I just don’t believe that our regulators are idiots who make up bizarre regulations just to mess with us.

Going to the Source – IRDA Regulations

Being a big fan of going to original sources, I tracked down this phrase to the “IRDA (Insurance Advertisements and Disclosure) Regulations, 2000” notification. (Here’s a pdf that I got off the IRDA website.) This is a document that regulates what advertisements related to insurance can and cannot contain. An important purpose of these regulations is to ensure that advertisements should not be “unfair or misleading.”

Here is what regulation 9 says:

  1. Identity of advertiser — Every advertisement for insurance shall:

  2. (i) state clearly and unequivocally that insurance is the subject matter of solicitation; and

  3. (ii) state the full registered name of the insurer/ intermediary/ insurance agent.

I should note that this entire document is about the rules governing who can advertise insurance, and how. Nowhere does it say anything ridiculous like “insurance cannot be sold; customer must ask for it.” In fact the whole document is mainly about how to sell insurance without misleading customers. It’s clear to anyone reading this document that selling and advertising the sale of insurance is perfectly legal.

In fact, reading the whole document in context (especially when read in conjunction with regulation 2(d)) it is quite clear that:

  • “solicitation” in this case means the advertisement itself, and
  • the purpose of this line is to ensure that the advertisement makes it clear that insurance is being advertised and not something else.

The second point here makes a lot of sense when you see an actual life insurance ad – a lot of it is focused on the returns you will get if you don’t die. Without this disclaimer, you would think the product being sold is an investment scheme, right? And that is precisely what this warning is supposed to prevent.

“We make it sound like the primary purpose of this scheme is the the returns you will get if you don’t die, but please don’t forget that the real product being sold here is the insurance cover you’re getting – the money you will get if you do die. But we’re going to say it in such opaque jargon that even websites that claim to give you expert financial advice don’t understand the warning.”

In any case, on November 4th, IRDA published an amendment which removed 9(i) from these regulations, so future advertisements are no longer required to have this phrase.

Moral of the Story

So, here are the morals of this story:

  • Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Even if lots of websites agree with each other. Especially if lots of websites agree with each other – that usually means (these days) that they all pretty much copied from each other.
  • Going to the original source is a powerful way of getting the real story. I do this every once in a while – I read the original wording of laws (e.g. defamation laws), or court cases, or other legal documents (e.g. India-US tax treaty) – and I always find the results quite instructive.
  • The government/bureaucracy is not filled with idiots. They don’t just make up random things. There is always a reason, if you just look at things from the correct angle. So, if something seems idiotic, chances are that you did not understand it properly.
  • Note to finance startups/companies – I know that your articles and blogs just exist for SEO purposes and as far as Google juice is concerned, quantity is king, but could you please at least have some sensible finance person take a look at your content and sign off on it to check that you’re not repeating incorrect information?