Many aspects of the previous year have been difficult and unfamiliar for everyone. However, a subject that has eluded the media is what that looked like for young people who decided to take a gap year. Often, students will begin a gap year full of travelling and volunteering, rather than start their first year of university but this is very different in the midst of a pandemic.
Last October I decided to take a year off and hide out until the world resembled some sort of normality again before I took my next steps. Here are five important things I learnt this year that will help you decide whether a gap year is the right choice for you.
It’s a chance for self-discovery
I spent a lot of time studying for my A-Levels and it became my entire life; I was left feeling like I barely had time to breathe. If I was to place myself in the cliché categories of either the ‘jock’ or ‘nerd’, I would safely fall into the latter. Studying became my whole personality. I was ready to carry on running straight into the next stage of my life without really taking time to consider who I was, or wanted to be.
My improvised gap year started in October. I’d decided to leave the Law course I enrolled in. I had an epiphany that Law wasn’t what I wanted to do but rather something I had fallen into because it seemed a more financially secure option for my future. Throughout the year I’ve learnt that I’m a multifaceted human being; in order to live a healthy lifestyle, I need more than just studying or work in my life.
With this in mind, I have looked for other things I enjoy doing such as running, writing and rediscovering my love of reading. On top of this, I found there’s a strong feminist within me just itching to try and change the world.
Work experience is more than something to put on an application
At the same time, I gained experience volunteering as a Literature columnist for a startup magazine, which helped me confirm that journalism was something I could see myself enjoying as a career.
I strongly recommend finding work experience during your gap year if you’re unsure about what you want to do. It can help you figure out if you truly enjoy the job you’re thinking of spending the foreseeable future working towards. Even if you are certain about what you want to do, work experience is invaluable. You will gain knowledge and skills that offer you a unique insight that assists you in your studies which you may not have gained otherwise.
The pandemic has in some ways changed things for the better. Now you can rethink what work experience can look like for you. It’s possible to participate online rather than in person. This opens up loads of possibilities, especially if the sector you’re thinking of entering only has opportunities in larger cities, which may not be close by or be feasible to travel to.
Time to focus on your mental health
Another reason I decided to take a gap year was because I had major anxieties surrounding covid and I felt like I needed to take a year to strengthen my mental health.
Although I’d struggled with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for a long time, I’d never taken real steps to manage it. My approach was avoiding the things that made me feel anxious in hopes the problem would magically go away—which I strongly discourage.
I spent part of the last year attending online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has really helped me gain a deeper understanding of myself, as well as my triggers. I believe it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my health and would highly recommend taking a year off simply for this reason alone.
It can feel lonely
I felt really lonely this year. My friends went to university whilst I stayed at home and tried to figure out my next steps. If most, or all, of your friends are going to university I urge you to consider how this might affect how you feel.
With very scarce opportunities to go out when the country was in lockdown and up until recently still limited opportunities due to social distancing, it was hard to find new friends.
Not to say that you will lose touch with your current friends but in my experience starting university can be a whirlwind. Your friends may not get in touch, not because they’re purposely leaving you behind but because your lives are moving in different directions.
A positive is that we now have vaccines and restrictions are slowly lifting but this isn’t to say they won’t tighten again, particularly in the winter months. If Covid has taught us anything it’s that nothing is certain.
Use your money wisely
Tuition fees can seem a scary and unreasonable amount to charge for further education in a ‘normal’ year, let alone when half your lectures may be online.
You might want to consider if paying the same amount of tuition fees for an entirely different university experience compared to past undergraduates is something you’re okay with, or if you’d rather wait a year until life hopefully resembles normality again. You might even decide online learning fits you better.
To sum up, this year has been a journey of personal growth which sounds cliché but nonetheless is true. I’ve learnt to be more mindful of myself through taking notice of the way I feel, my behaviours and tendencies and how to unlearn self-sabotaging habits.
Though the year has felt long and often lonely, I have been forced to sit with myself and face uncomfortable truths. It hasn’t been easy but I can honestly say I don’t regret it. My gap year allowed me to learn who I want to be and make steps towards becoming that person.
Don’t let anyone make you feel less than for taking a gap year or dropping out of your chosen course to do so. I was terrified last October and there have been various people who have sowed seeds of doubt in my head, but making the decision to take a gap year is brave and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
My gap year may look different to yours but one thing I’m certain is that it will be a year of learning and growth.
Words by Jasmine Edge
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