The gap year debate

Posted October 11, 2013, by Julia Watters

When I finished school I went straight to university. I didn’t pass go, although I did collect $2000 by way of a handy little scholarship. I was too afraid that if I paused and got off the study train even temporarily, I wouldn’t be able to get back on. My twin sister, on the other hand, had other ideas that involved Camp Counselors USA and some pretty awesome sightseeing through Europe. It’s a classic sliding doors scenario.

So why did she choose to take a gap year and I didn’t?

A common reason for people to take a year off is sheer indecisiveness, to put off having to commit to further study for just one more year. Finished school and don’t know what to do next? Why not throw on a backpack and see the world while you make up your mind?

The only glitch in my own scenario was that I was the one who didn’t know what I wanted to study, and my sister had known since early high school. Like our older sister, my twin had chosen a career in education and so deferred her uni offer for a year to see some of the world before her studies.

I knew that I enjoyed things like writing and English, but I had no idea how to turn that into a course … or a career. All I knew was that I didn’t want to take a year off to figure it out. Luckily for me, I was able to compare courses from a variety of universities and ended up opting for an arts degree. It was still a bit of a gamble given my vagueness, but I was very lucky to fall into a degree that I loved.

I still often wish that I had taken the opportunity to travel while I was younger – and would no doubt have been more willing to stay in cheap hostels. The truth is that I was worried that if I didn’t continue studying, I would lose momentum and not want to go back. That probably wouldn’t have happened, but of course I’ll never know.

Another thing I didn’t know was that taking a year off could actually offer me some serious benefits when it came to my tertiary studies. A 2013 study of Australian undergraduate students, conducted by Sydney University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work, has shed some light on a relatively new concept.

According to Professor Andrew Martin, lead author of the study, ‘school achievement will get students into university, but its impact on university achievement is relatively limited’. He goes on to say that students who gain post-school life experience outside the classroom are greatly benefited. One such benefit is maintaining good marks throughout the entire span of your degree.

If you do decide to take a year off, there is certainly no shortage of programs available to help you fill in the time. These include volunteering programs that not only provide you with a money-can’t-buy experience, but will also look great on your CV. And if you’re worried that your money really can’t buy it, a plethora of grants and scholarships are just a Google search away.

So if you weren’t considering taking a gap year, it might just be worth a re-think. It could give you the academic edge in your studies, and will certainly give you a personal edge when it comes to life experience. And if you have the same momentum concerns that I did, well you can always do an online course in your year off and study from your hostel in Switzerland!

Want to hear more on the gap year debate? triple j asks the question 'When is the best time to hit the road and see the world?'

Julia Watters

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