When I was reaching my final year of high school and looking at options for university, it felt like that was the only route open to me. I didn’t even consider a gap year, not for a single second. It honestly was never presented as an option. My school wrongly made it seem as if only people who didn’t get into their chosen university took one. I was an overachiever, so I applied to universities and accepted an offer. Come September, I was unpacking my bags in a small room and planning what to wear to my first Fresher's event.
A gap year was presented as a deviation from your path rather than a path of its own.
But during my studies, I met people who had first taken a gap year. I was shocked to hear this. They spoke of their gap years with such wonder and gratitude, of the things they did and how far they felt from their eighteen-year-old selves. They had gone travelling, done courses, worked - a multitude of things. And then they had come to the very university I rushed to, with a better idea of who they are and who they want to be. These were the people that did well in classes and walked with self-assuredness while the rest of us scuttled insecurely.
By the time we graduate high school, we’ve likely spent all of our conscious years in a classroom. Day after day, we’ve been told what to wear, how to study, where to go, and essentially what to think. We’re reared into these little human beings and told that we’re adults once we hit eighteen.
I don’t know about you, but I was not an adult at eighteen. I was a child desperate to be grown up. I didn’t know much besides the four walls of a classroom. I thought I was discovering who I was, but looking back, I can see that I hadn’t even started that journey.
A gap year is an opportunity to leave one classroom and not immediately enter another. It’s a chance to educate yourself on everything you won’t learn in a classroom. A gap year presents the space, literal space, to explore yourself.
Whether you work, travel or volunteer, you’re putting yourself in unknown territory and testing your limits. You’re allowing yourself to see the world beyond education. Instead of thinking that getting an ‘A’ is life or death, you discover how much happens beyond grades and exams.
We expect eighteen-year-olds to know what they want to do with their life. We ask them to choose a career path and embark on it. This works for some and not for others. But also, we’ll never know how well it actually works, as you don’t explore the other options before choosing. There might be other careers you’d be better suited for, different lifestyles waiting for you, but you settle for the one you did a degree for.
And while you can go in many directions with a degree or end up not even using it, this is made harder by all the money and time that you’ve spent. You might also end up returning to higher education once you’ve realised what you actually want to do. Or you might find out that your ambitions are better equipped with work experience or internships rather than a degree.
I have a very expensive degree that I don’t use. And while I cherish the time I spent in university, it wasn’t for the education I received. I’m now chasing my writing dreams because I have grown up enough to believe in myself. I can’t help but wonder how my life would be if I had the space of a gap year, the chance to start growing up without the cushion of higher education.
Would I have started following my writing dreams earlier? Would I have chosen a more relevant study that could’ve gotten me further? Would I have gotten invaluable work experience and saved myself both time and money?
But more than a career, I wonder what a gap year could’ve done for my mental health. Like many others, studying fueled the flames of my mental illness. It allowed me to ignore my needs and work tirelessly toward trivial goals. University was a place where I could drink excessively to ignore my pain, and it was considered normal, celebrated even. For those of us struggling with our mental health, a gap year could be the space to get treatment and begin healing. It can be a chance to remove the pressures of education and learn to exist with ourselves.
I’ll never know what a gap year could’ve done for my life, but a little part of me will always wonder. What I can do instead is recognise the importance of space, both physically and mentally, as that space shouldn’t be confined to the year after finishing high school. A gap year can happen at any time, and it doesn’t even need to be called that. Instead of looking down on it, we should celebrate people taking what they need in life and discovering themselves at any age.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!