I am a 19-year-old from Cambridge, England. Since August, I have been meticulously planning and raising funds for 12 months free of academic education, my gap year. I have always wanted to see Mongolia, and when the opportunity to work for a paper in its ever-changing capital arose, I couldn’t possibly refuse it.
I won’t lie by saying I could have worked harder for my A-levels. If I had, I’d be in Edinburgh studying obscure British history, and being rained on in Scotland. Instead, I’m in blue-skied Mongolia writing for its oldest privately-owned English newspaper; slightly more rewarding right?
Nevertheless, I am one of almost 30,000 soon-to-be British university students that have decided against jumping straight into the world of tertiary education immediately after their exam results were revealed. This group of 18 and 19 year olds will be postponing university by getting jobs, earning money, gaining life experience and jetting off to the world’s most idyllic locations during their gap years. But for what?
Some people, like Sir Martin Sorrell, boss of the world’s leading advertising firm WPP, deem a gap year a waste of time. I assure you there are many current students, parents, and workers who are of a similar mindset. “Why would you squander a year of your life when you could be getting an education?” they say. They may well be right. The recently emerged gap year stereotype has, of course, not helped. Many assume the typical gap-yearer to be a spoiled, parent-funded, Donald Trump-advocating waste of space in search of booze and bikinis. It is a sad truth that some gap-yearers are like this. Some aren’t. Though there are negatives, there are positives too. What else would show an 18-year-old a world beyond home, a world of independence, and a world of work all in twelve months? Hard to choose right?
So, why should I take a gap year?
A year off studying and working in the real world provides the best opportunity to mature. Many of my friends “weren’t ready to go to university”, so why should they needlessly conform and go straight there? In my case, I lived with a friend for six weeks while his parents were enjoying themselves in New Zealand. This month and a half showed my mate and I what independence felt like. We got back from work, and rather than having a deliciously cooked meal on the table, we cooked our own questionably cooked meals. When roaming around the world, the speed of maturation is intensified; you can’t call upon your mother to sort out your every need when in the Gobi. It’s your own responsibility. For those who need a lesson in the real world, a gap year is almost essential.
This is linked significantly to perspective. Starting a new job, exploring new cultures, and meeting a wide range of exciting people can only be a good thing. While university can offer this, why not extend it; meet people from different continents rather than from different cities. Doing this will boost your understanding of world affairs better than studying geography.
A gap year can also be used for pursuing non-academic ambitions. Hard to do that if you’re swamped with an essay on 18th century painting techniques. I have a friend chasing a professional rugby career, one wanted to walk across Scandinavia, and me, I wanted to visit Mongolia. That one’s off the bucket list.
Ultimately, if someone wants to do or achieve something before academic responsibility takes precedence, summon your inner Shia LaBeouf and JUST DO IT. I did. It’s been amazing.
Of course, for this you need a little money. The opportunity to raise a little cash to fund university, business ventures, or travel is perfect. A full-time job for 12 months will certainly boost your coffers, give you a feel for independence, look great on your CV and even please your parents. Plus, its nice paying for everything yourself. I have friends working in coffee shops, engineering companies, retailers, and on construction sites. We’ll all say having a little dosh is great.
It even adds to the fun. Every friend I’ve asked doesn’t regret taking a gap year. Some at university regret not taking one. Friends have sky dived over New Zealand, stared in awe at luminous plankton in Thailand, worked on yachts in Mallorca, and got themselves lost in Ulaanbaatar more than once (whoops). That was fun.
You’ve heard the benefits, now to the other bit: the disadvantages. What are the reasons for going straight to university or a full-time job? Some subjects, like chemistry, require an extensive knowledge base even before you begin your university course. “Universities frown upon it,” said a student of chemistry at Oxford about the gap year. If you’re taking a subject like this, don’t risk your degree. Really not worth it. This delay between school and university can sometimes be harmful. Some want to enter the workplace at a younger age. Though its sadly something I won’t experience, I can imagine that the feeling of earning good money with a degree before all of your mates is wonderful. While they’re slaving over algebra and you’re raking in the dollar, it makes going straight to university seem more appealing, doesn’t it?
To relate, gap years can be expensive. Though university is expensive too, loans help, in the UK at least. Traveling around the world is certainly not cheap. Neither is sustaining yourself at home. If you’re not willing to make some sort of financial investment, and you’d rather conserve your savings, just go to university. Spend those savings some other day.
One thing that can taint the gap year experience is the stigma. If you want to avoid this, don’t gap year. As I mentioned earlier, there are some gap-yearers who do epitomize the stereotype. I’m sure some people would even think I and this article are a little typical of the gap-yearer. “Oh, you know, I just want to experience Mongolia because it gives me so much more cultural awareness as well as something to actually talk about.” Classic.
This should really not sway one’s decision, but you need to be ready for the stick you’ll inevitably receive. The hard task of writing about my gap year makes me even more vulnerable. But you know, I’ll embrace it. Keep your chin up, Charlie. You can take it.
The potential best reason someone should go straight to university: fun. I asked friends at university if they’d do a gap year now. I was greeted by a chorus of, “I love university too much to do a gap year now,” and “I am very, very happy,” and “I can travel during the long summers.” Some people just want to go to university, and I think it’s great. To me, it gives me even more to look forward to. Ultimately, if you want to go to university, just go. From what I’ve heard, you’ll have an absolutely cracking time.
Obviously, having a gap year is up to you. Maybe you fancy it. Maybe you don’t. Maybe I’ve helped you decide, or even altered your parent’s opinion too. But am I happy Edinburgh rejected me because of one measly grade? Yes. Ecstatic. Delighted. Pretty thrilled to be honest. I’d urge anyone to gap year. Whether it’s for earning money to pay for university, for gaining independence from parents, for experiencing real life, and, if possible, for seeing the world.
Though it can be a challenge, it really is worth it. This year I’ve applied to some great schools. (maybe I’ll get in, with a little luck), helped hundreds of people choose their favorite pair of headphones at one of the UK’s biggest retailers, experienced the alien world of corporate law, lived like Chandler and Joey for six weeks, been harassed working in post-Christmas sales, packed a bag for three vastly different climates, got stupidly lost in San Francisco, sat in the Hong Kong airport alone for half a day, watched 1,115 Bactrian camels race in the Gobi, and written for a Mongolian paper. I have almost five months left. Something tells me they’ll be pretty cool.