It’s the sentence no parent or school wants to hear a Graduate say. Like taking a Gap Year is the worst thing you can possibly do with your life. This is very much how I felt after telling my school teachers, friends and family that I had decided to defer from my chosen course and embark on a Gap Year. My decision wasn’t received the way I would have hoped and it was also followed by a series of questions, assumptions, and bad advice like:
“So, you didn’t get a high enough ATAR to get into your University Course?”
“You can’t get a decent job these days without a degree.”
And my personal favourite: “Be careful taking a Gap Year as it will turn into a Gap Life!”
Well, the truth was, no, my life hasn’t turned into a Gap Life, though there were times when I felt like it had. Choosing to take a Gap Year was one of the hardest decisions I felt like I ever had to justify. The level of shame I felt, the pressure from friends, some family members and teachers left me feeling like I was falling behind.
When I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My favourite subjects at school were Drama, Media and English. My dream was to be a Hollywood Actress but in the last two years of school, I developed a passion for writing and began to question whether the glamour of the screen was the right fit for me. Like many year 12 students, I sought the advice from my school’s careers counsellor. To say the advice she gave me was terrible would be an understatement!
I was explicitly advised not to study a Bachelor of Arts because a Bachelor of Arts was too vague and instead of wasting my time in an airy fairy Arts Course, I would be better off focusing on one field instead of multiple. This left me feeling unsure and incredibly conflicted when I entered my preferences into the VTAC. The Film and Television Bachelor I had chosen as my first preference didn’t feel like the right fit and neither did any of the other courses that I had applied to.
My Gap Year after leaving High School wasn’t an exciting travel filled year that is often sold to us when we google Gap Year. It was a year of hard work, soul searching, self discovery and resilience. The first few months were brutal and left me feeling mentally unstable.
I remember catching up with some of my high school friends 4 months into their University Courses and feeling like I had nothing exciting going on in my life. They were all experiencing wonderful new things, while I was struggling to get a full-time job. A part of me wondered if I should just reapply to my course I had deferred. I remember wishing that I wanted to study a more traditional career path in medicine or law but I knew my passions were in the creative field. I just didn’t know how to get there and had very limited guidance on what steps to take.
Before I let myself spiral and doubt my decision, I made a list of all the things I believed that would interest me whilst working in my full time job at a Makeup Academy. I enrolled in two short writing and drama courses, acted in several student films as well as joined my local theatre company. My work as a personal assistant at the Makeup Academy was tough. I was underpaid and worked hard for every minute in a toxic environment. However, my experience at the Makeup Academy wasn’t wasted. I came out of that job qualified as a professional makeup artist and had earned the experience working in a full-time administrative role which helped me secure preferable roles in the workforce later on.
Six years after finishing High School, I have now pursued higher study in none other than a Bachelor of Arts. I took more than a Gap Year to get to this decision – I took six years! But those Six years were not wasteful.
In those six years, I worked full time in a combination of roles, auditioned multiple times for several of the Australia’s leading Drama Schools, became a qualified makeup artist, studied several short writing and drama courses, started my own small business, became a content creator for The Mentorship and co-editor for The Graduates Guide as well as travelled to over 21 countries around the world. I was able to do all of this without a university degree to my name.
There is a toxic social belief that a Gap Year will turn into a Gap Life and that a Gap Year is a waste of time. This could not be further from the truth. The number of peers I know who dived headfirst into a University Degree and ended up deferring, jumping courses or taking a leave of absence from study is a lot more than the peers I know who took a Gap Year. So why is the choice of a Gap Year met with social criticism and the fear of falling behind?
As High school Graduates, we are very fragile. We are taken from a familiar structured learning environment and then we are thrown out into the world after graduation to find our place. I know I was left wondering, where to from here because I hadn’t taken the traditional route of study. A successful Gap Year can mean many things.
It’s okay if your Gap Year isn’t an epic year of partying, traveling, working with wild animals, volunteering or living in another country. It’s okay if your Gap Year is a year of just working.
It’s okay if you struggle mentally and feel like you’re falling behind, it’s okay to feel indifferent from your friends who are studying. And it’s okay if you still don’t know what you want to do at the end of that Gap Year.
There were many times when I doubted my decision to not pursue further study and many times when I doubted my happiness in working full time. The Gap Year I took and the five years that followed helped shape the person I am today, helped me understand what I truly want from life (which changed significantly from when I graduated High School), and what my true passions and goals are in life.
The best advice I could give any High School Graduate is, surround yourself with people who support your decision to take a Gap Year and tune out those who don’t; seek advice from a mentor or those who have taken a Gap Year; try everything and anything that piques your interest but know your boundaries. Remember that while your peers may be studying, they too may be feeling a little unsure. Your journey is your own and while there is a social pressure that you may be falling behind, everyone’s journey is different.
If you’re considering embarking on a Gap Year or even if you are struggling on what steps to take next from graduation, you can download our eBook ‘Where to From Here’ under the tab eBooks or you can reach out to us on our website for guidance and advice.