The Truth About Gap Years

The Truth About Gap Years

“A gap year? Eugh.”

“You can’t do that – universities hate them!”

“What are you going to do with your time?!”

These are the responses I was faced with when I first mentioned taking a gap year at age 16. It was two years before I’d have to make my final decision, but here’s what I discovered:

People really don’t like gap years.

I was shocked. This wasn’t just the adults in my life who believed that education was the most valuable thing in the universe, this was my fellow students and role models as well.

Personally, I was in awe of people who broke the stereotype and upped and left home for a year to go travelling. I knew I’d never have the courage to do it myself, and was absolutely stunned that anyone could think it was a bad thing.

My ‘friends’ thoroughly interrogated me about how I planned to spend my year. As soon as I mentioned finding a job, I was shot down by people telling me the job market was terrible and I’d need a degree to even be considered as a Saturday Girl. When I mentioned travelling to Finland to volunteer (on a husky farm no less – who doesn’t want that? Endless husky hugs on bad days are amazing things!), no-one believed I would do it.

My gap year turned out to be the most important thing I’ve ever done.

oh hai there

Although I decided during my year out that I did, in fact, want to go to university, my gap year enabled me to choose so freely. The pure pressure from everyone to go straight to uni almost pushed me into doing a course that wasn’t right for me. When I eventually applied, I received an unconditional offer because I could already tell my university my exam results – it made things a lot easier for them and me.

All your arguments are invalid, because husky hugs on bad days are amazing

By stepping back and giving myself a break, I was able to grow as a person and gain a lot of confidence. I can guarantee that my university life is better as a result of my gap year. I was able to find a course that I’m really enjoying, at a uni that’s close to home. I had the chance to both volunteer and work in paid positions and gained invaluable life experience that I’d be lost now without.

In the end I did go to Finland. I worked up North for ten weeks, which is the furthest I’ve ever been from home, and had the most challenging, enjoyable and rewarding experience I could have asked for. I knew everyone had their doubts – no-one would expect this rebellion from the quiet, geeky girl at the front of class – but I didn’t do it for them. I did it for me.

Finland – as beautiful as you’d expect

By the time you’re applying to university, you’ve reached the awkward stage in life where people expect you to act like adults but still treat you like children. The fact is, by this stage it’s no longer up to your parents and guardians what you do, but up to you. And if you think you’ll be happy in the faraway land of Finland surrounded by dogs, or working for a year to give yourself a bit of independence, or trying lots of week-long experiences in an attempt to find a new you, then go for it. Or if you want to go straight to university, go ahead and do that too – as long as it’s what you want.

I’d never sit here and tell you what to choose – just encourage you to really consider what you’re going for, or what you’re missing out on. I wouldn’t have given up my gap year for the world.

The pros of having a gap year before university:

  • You’re a year older and more mature because of it – you can handle the work load better.
  • You have the chance to travel, before university debt catches you out.
  • You can try your hand at different things, and maybe find a profession you love.
  • It’s easier to apply – you know all of your results already.