We’re starting to get to the squeaky bum time of our lives. By this I mean we are entering a period in which our future becomes the preserve of our own fancies, not that of society, our parents or our peers. Up to now most major decisions, in the spheres of education and future planning have been made apart, or at least not solely from, our own desires. It was not our decision to go to primary school, rather that of our parents. Despite being given some preference as to preferred secondary schools, it was a limited choice in the sense that a school had to be picked, as there was seemingly no other option. Furthermore for the majority of people the progression to college was a decision almost pre-determined by society and our peers in the sense that this is a decision undertaken by the vast majority (85%) of people leaving key stage 4 educational establishments. Thus, it is essentially the case that for the first time in many people’s lives, post-college is a real decision, a real choice, but more than that a truly life-changing opportunity to go the places we want to go and see the things we want to see.
In light of this truth, it seems pertinent to address the potential advantageousness of a gap year. For a long time I was skeptical of a gap year to say the least. I didn’t believe I could make sufficient use of the time that would justify delaying my university entry for a year. Just to clarify I am a firm advocate of defining a gap year as just that, a year, anything longer, I do not believe can fall in to this category and should be classed as an extended break from formal education. In terms of my gap year, for a long time I did not or would not trust myself to have the discipline necessary to make proper use of a year out in terms of cultural and personal development. This all changed following a conversation with my Dad. It became clear to me in this dialogue that to not take a gap year now was to risk throwing away the biggest single freedom I had ever possessed. I realised that the climax of college is more than the ending of 14 years of predetermined education; it is the emergence of a unique freedom that we never again possess. We have little financial worries, no families to care for, no debt and crucially the chance to shape our futures exactly as we want. The reason this point is so significant to the taking of a gap year is that it contradicts the assertion that a gap year could be enjoyed to the fullest extent possible after university. This is a line delivered many a time to me by my friends but I doubt its validity. Fundamentally I am unsure of the practical truths of taking a year out after university. Would one not be debt-laden, pressure-burdened, over-matured and as a result of these factors fundamentally more restricted. In light of this, surely delaying a gap year until after university is a risk simply not worth taking. If you believe in the merit of a gap year now then surely waiting three years for this experience is not only misguided but naive because there can be no guarantee that this time can be regained.
To conclude, it is important to mention that gap years are by no means a path for everyone. Thus, the purpose of this piece is to preach to the converted so to speak, to give justification to those taking a gap year beyond the line ‘I need a break’. To take a gap year could mean forging a whole new identity on the back of a newfound independence and a realisation of one’s ultimate passion. It is because of this truth that the time we have now, the freest, most liberated time to date, should certainly if wanted be used to help shape us as people and remind us that there is such thing as life outside formal education.
By Peter R. Jacobs