In the last few days, we’ve been hearing a lot about Malia Obama taking a gap year before starting at Harvard University. The Huffington Post posted this article about minding the gap. From their point of view, taking a gap year means losing the learned skills of routine, learning and re-call. Honestly, I’m inclined to agree – but not wholly.
Taking a gap year straight out of secondary school does feel like a leap. There’s something about an academic mindset that is easy to fall out of. You learn skills in school like prioritisation, critical analysis, focus and determination. And leaving school for a year threatens a human with de-skilling. At the age of 17 or 18, once you fall out of that routine and de-skill, it’s hard to get back.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the need for a break. After four gruelling years and countless headaches, taking a break seems like a welcome invitation. But I think that taking a year at that particular age can be highly detrimental. Personally, if I had taken a year off upon high school graduation, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
Instead, I chose to move forward with my education. To dive right in. And though the headaches returned and the hard-work seemed never ending, it was the right choice. There’s a lot of freedom afforded to you in university. A lot of the time, students have entire afternoons off or even a day within the week without classes. You get to choose times that suit you best (as long as courses are offered more than once a week) and you get to find a new routine that works for you.
Not only that, but many universities now require at graduation that you’ve explored fields beyond your program. At my own university, it was required that you take at least one credit in the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences on top of your program requirements. That means you get to take electives you never would have thought you’d be interested in. With that, of course, there will be courses you hate. Sociology was that course for me. But it also gave me an idea of what I didn’t want to do with my life.
The idea of taking a gap year is to get an internship or volunteer or travel to find what fits for you. But university affords you those opportunities as much as a year off. There are countless clubs and societies and sports to get involved in. There are research opportunities that come straight from your department. There are programs like Erasmus that allow you to take a semester abroad. And these are key to making your university experience the best it will ever be and finding what fits for you.
At the end of my four years of university, I took my gap year. A lot of the time a Bachelor’s degree just isn’t enough anymore. As millennials, we see this all too clearly. But taking a gap year after university, I was more prepared to fight for my education and it came with an understanding of education’s impact on my life. Had I not continued on immediately after secondary, I could have missed an opportunity to find my passion. And now that I’m back to the grind, I appreciate it more. Yes, post-grad is difficult and harrowing and daunting but, it is also fulfilling and rewarding.
So this is me encouraging young students graduating secondary school this year to push themselves. Explore your opportunities in university, not in a gap year. And if you need to take more than the normal four years to get through it because it’s tough, that’s okay. That just gives you more time to try new courses, find what fits for you and become passionate about something you’ve never explored before.
Then, take your break. Because after eight to ten years in primary, four years in secondary and another four to five in university, you’ll need it. But you’ll appreciate your education so much more than you do now. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone but, your teens are hard enough without having to struggle to get back to an academic mindset.