Planning a Gap Year

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Roving reporter Jessica looks back at her gap year and offers some advice to others considering taking a year off from study.

Jessica - My Gap Year StoryIt was that time of the year when school was finally coming to an end. After 13 years of classrooms, essays, athletics days, studying, Facebook when I should have been studying and, of course, the dreaded exams, it was all over. Then the much anticipated question was raised: what now?

When school ended and I was faced with the prospect of another three years of study and having to go through all the assignments, exams and pressure again, well, I sort of freaked out. I had just finished the year they all say is the most stressful, the hardest and the best year of your education and having to jump straight back into all that a few months after graduating made me want to run and hide under the covers.

Then the answer came to me, wrapped in a pretty ribbon of promise: a year of freedom, of earning money, of partying, of volunteering, of travelling the world. This was the promise of a gap year.

Having just come out the other side of my gap year I’ve begun to reflect on the year I experienced. For me, it involved spending a lot of my time working to save money for the future. I also travelled across Europe with a group of friends, visiting 12 different countries and experiencing cultures and ways of life that I had never dreamt of.

So, for all those high school graduates who are planning to take a gap year, here is some advice I wish someone had given me before.

Get Prepared!

For some people a year away from studying sounds like heaven, but you need to avoid falling into the trap of just winging it. Don’t just finish school without having a plan for the year ahead or a list of goals you want to achieve.

If you plan to work you should find a stable job with good hours at a place you enjoy working. If you want to travel, visit a travel agent as soon as possible or start planning all the details yourself in advance. If you like the idea of volunteering, get in contact with organisations early - places in volunteer programs are sometimes limited.

Getting organised will make your gap year run smoothly and will have the bonus advantage of making you feeling more confident when you go back into study. After all, if you've organised a job for yourself, or a round-the-world trip, school's going to be easy in comparison, right?

Make the Year Worthwhile

Yes, it is great to take a break from studying after the craziness of year 12, but since you have a whole year it is helpful to do something towards your future.

This might include work experience at a job/career you think you may want to pursue, volunteering, or working to save money for all the expenses of future studying.

Finding work experience in fields that interest you will not only give you perspective, but you will gain valuable working skills and it will look great on your resume.

Stay in Touch with Friends

This might seem like a no-brainer, but after high school has finished and everyone goes in different directions it can be hard to keep in contact. If there are people in your life that you don’t want to lose, put in an effort to stay in touch with them and see how they’re going.

Hanging on to old friends is important, but so is making new ones. You are bound to meet a lot of new people over the course of the year, so don’t be afraid to form new friendships and groups with different people.

A good support network is essential in life, so make sure not to isolate yourself this year.

Give Yourself Some Structure

For the last six years high school has formed the structure of your life, with classes going Monday to Friday. Living without this timetable can be a welcome change, but don’t get lazy.

Structure can be simple to create. It could take the form of work schedules or committing to play a sport every week. You should also try to keep some sort of semblance of a regular sleeping pattern. Trust me - you’ll thank me later for this one.

Try Something Different

Having a year off before further studies gives you time to experience new things, meet different people and get out of your comfort zone.

You could take up a a new sport or join an organisation, volunteer somewhere where you are making a difference, or go to a country that you have always dreamt of going to. Not only will you have some great experiences, but by doing things that you don’t normally do you may discover things about yourself that you might not have known otherwise.

Travel!

If I could only give one piece of advice for gap year students, it would be to travel. Go overseas and experience different cultures, eat strange foods and meet people whose lives are vastly different from your own.

Better yet, explore your own backyard by travelling around Australia and going to places you didn’t even know existed in your home country. There is a whole big world outside of high school and seeing it yourself is a life changing thing.

Going Back to Study After a Gap Year

Many people told me that if I took a year off I wouldn’t want to go back to study. Taking a year off didn’t deter me from going on to further study, though. Instead it made me want to go back even more.

Having a break helped me recover after year 12 had turned my brain into mush, but at some points during the year I did feel like I had lost a sense of purpose. There was no study score in sight, no promise of a job at the end, and without a goal to work towards I sometimes felt a bit lost. I was looking forward to getting back into study so that I would have something to work towards and so that I would feel like I was moving towards in my future career aspirations.

Of course, this isn’t the same for everyone. Some people fully intend to go back to study, but instead they discover that they like working full time or that they want to do something else. This doesn't mean they've made the wrong choice. It just means they've figured out what they want to do in the future.

My gap year left me feeling refreshed and ready to continue on in my tertiary studies. If you're feeling like you need a break, or if there are things you want to do before returning to study, I encourage you to think about taking a gap year. If you think a gap year sounds right for you, hopefully these tips can help prepare you for your year away from study. Whatever you end up doing, just try to make the most of the year and have a whole lot of fun so that you have some awesome stories to tell in the future!

Check out the rest of youthcentral for more advice on finding work, volunteering & work experience, managing money and travel.