The pros and cons of taking a gap year
For up and coming school-leavers, the question of what to do upon graduation is beginning to loom.
It may feel like you’ve still got a lot of time, and in some ways you do. However, the school year will pass by in what feels like a blink and you find yourself stuck in an existential crisis (the first of many, likely) of what you should do once you’re free from the chains of high school.
There are a few options once you’re out of high school: working; apprenticeships; further study; or a gap year. Gap years serve as a kind of procrastination period while you decide what you want to do. Don’t get confused though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and everyone has different goals and expectations of themselves which can take varying amounts of time to figure out.
This is where gap years come in, it’s a time to figure things out, try some things, and live your life outside the pressure of an educational institution watching over you.
It can be an incredibly difficult decision to make though, and you have to weigh up a lot of different factors. We’ve compiled some of the pros and cons of taking a gap year to help in this process, and hopefully, it will bring some things up you may not have considered.
A chance to save $$$
Taking a year to work, in any kind of capacity, is a great chance to save some dollars while still getting our parents to pay our bills (you’d be amazed at how much less you can save when you have rent, power, wifi, and food coming out of your account every week).
An extra bit of financial backing can make your next step in life a lot easier, and take a lot of stress off.
It’s also a great chance to learn your way around money and how to best use it in a way that sits with your integrity. For more help, check out this article on budgeting.
Granted you’ve done the grind to save, travelling is an amazing experience to consider. This gives you a chance to see the world through a different lens and get a first-hand account of the vastness of the globe.
Travelling is certainly something you can do later as well, and this won’t be your only opportunity.
However, travelling at this age can be an incredibly shaping and worthwhile experience. Definitely worth considering if you want to change your perspective and widen your horizons.
Go into reset mode
You don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to Nepal to find yourself and achieve nirvana. You have been a part of an educational institution for (probably) around 13 years of your life. For some, going straight into further study off the back of this is too damn daunting.
Taking a year off just to have a chance to breathe without it being graded is a wonderfully liberating time.
In this, you can clear your head of external expectations and actually figure out what you want to do.
A lot of us feel pressure to immediately do something upon graduation because that’s the expectation you experience in school. In the fashion of all breakups, some time on your own to figure things out is healthy and (often) needed to actually know what is best for yourself.
Try new things
Taking a gap year means you’ll have the time to do all the fun things you tell yourself you want to try. Learn a new skill, practise what interests you and allow that intrinsic motivation push you to pursue things for yourself.
Through this, you are also giving yourself the opportunity to figure out your interests outside of a purely academic environment.
Uploading calligraphy and wax seal videos on Instagram isn’t taught in school but it’s certainly a career path if our explore feeds have anything to say about it (P.S. this isn’t encouragement to sell teeth whiteners and detox teas on social media platforms).
Being social creatures, seeing our friends move away to begin the next chapter of our lives can elicit some mad FOMO (fear of missing out). Feeling as though everyone is progressing in their lives while you choose something can be an incredibly hard decision and requires us to go against the norm, another thing we humans shy away from.
In saying this, your motivation to move away for study shouldn’t be the desire to do the norm.
Many go away for the ‘student experience.’ However, the student experience we envision (drinking, partying, meeting lots of people) is not the same as reality (completely self-motivated study, an increased workload, and stress trips to Maccas for a froco at 3 am).
If your reasons for study is the former, and your chosen field of study isn’t something you’re actually passionate about, you’ll find yourself fizzling out as soon as O week is over.
Ask yourself: am I taking this because I see a future in this field, or because I need a reason to be in a hall of residence? When the going gets tough, will I fold or knuckle down?
An ongoing joke/warning thrown around in year 13 is to avoid taking a gap year because it can quickly and accidentally turn into a gap life. Having money is really nice and it can be a super tough decision to willingly give that up to lead a poor student lifestyle.
With this, there is also the possibility of losing confidence in your ability to learn. Doing something else can be a daunting concept, and often the longer we leave it, the less likely we are to pick it up again.
To combat this, and keep some momentum going, pursuing other things and practising other skills will keep your mind open to learning. Having that self-motivation will also be a great skill to nail down if university is in your later plans.
Ironically, money is an argument both for and against the gap year debate. It boils down to your budgeting, other plans (such as travel), and lifestyle. That I’ll-get-paid-again-next-week mentality can be toxic as heck and we can find by the end of the year that we haven’t saved anything as a result. The response to this may be to take another year off, and the cycle begins anew.
The way to mitigate this as much as possible is to have a clear idea of what you want out of your gap year.
The whole reason it’s called a gap year is that you’re in the schooling/adult life equivalent of purgatory. The idea is that you have to go somewhere else eventually and is not a final destination. Figure out what you want your destination is going to be, and from this, you will be able to figure out the best way to use your money to facilitate your goals.
Waste of time?
Because of all the potential pitfalls of a gap year, you could get to Christmas with a bitter taste in your mouth as you realise you didn’t achieve as much as you had initially intended.
This feeling can be compounded when friends come back for summer and you hear about their experiences. A kind of salt in the wound as dissatisfaction taints the memory of the past year.
Your decision to take a gap year was the best for you, and while your friends may have fun accounts of their year, it probably would not have been the same for you because it wasn’t what you wanted. Keep your reasons present in your mind and it will help hugely in backing your decisions.
In times of regret, remember your feelings at the time and you’ll feel more comfortable in what you’ve done.
At the end of the day, what you do in your first year after exiting high school can be one of the most formative years of your life so far. It can also be slow and liberating. Either way, nothing that you do can’t be remedied in the next year and there is nothing that will dictate your future steps.
Remember that what is best for others may not be what’s best for you. Make decisions that sit with your goals and current situation and everything else will come together.