Congratulations, you’re done high school! If you aren’t done, you’re probably getting really close to it. Now is the time to get ready to go to university or college, right? You’ve just spent thirteen years in school and now you’ve got to spend another two to four in a full-time program. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not. Maybe you aren’t sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you don’t have the money or time to devote to full-time studies. Or maybe you just don’t want to go to university or college yet.
Have you considered a gap year? What is this mythical thing of which you speak, you ask me. A gap year is just what it sounds like: a space in time between graduating high school and attending post-secondary. It’s not really anything mystical or magical, but it can be super informative and insightful. Let’s face it, at seventeen and eighteen, not a lot of us are ready to devote ourselves to ‘the rest of our lives’. Now that I’ve been out of high school for what feels like forever, I can look back and tell you I really should have taken a gap year. There are a lot of things I’d like to do differently. Instead, I’m going to lay out some information to help you decide whether a gap year is right for you.
Why the Gap Year
The first thing to consider is why you want to take this time away. This gap in studying can be great if you:
- Don’t have a clear vision of what you actually want to do in post-secondary
- Need to work to save money for school
- Want to try volunteering or working in different fields to get an idea of what they’re like
- Have travel plans to learn about other parts of the world
- Need to decompress from thirteen years of full-time school before doing it all again
- Have started post-secondary but it’s not working for you
In other parts of the world, taking a gap year is pretty common. In fact, you could say it’s a rite of passage. There are a mountain of things you can accomplish in this time off, such as learning a new skill, gaining work experience or climbing an actual mountain. You can take this time to reflect on what you want and need from your job. Volunteering is a great way to get experience in a field and help you figure out if you want to pursue employment there.
Finding Your Path to Success
In order to write this article, I reached out to two close friends of mine who have had gap year experiences. Their experiences were different from each other, but the lessons they’ve learned are equally amazing.
Megan is 30 years old and works as an Animal Health Technologist in Fort McMurray, Alberta. When I asked her about her post-secondary experience, it mirrored what I have heard a lot of students say before:
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says, “I knew I had to go to post-secondary because my parents were paying for my education and they wanted me to go. After spending a year and a half at one university and then another year and a half at a college, I stopped. I just kept switching my program and I wasn’t happy with what I was learning.”
So Megan stopped her post-secondary education and focused on finding work. It took her three years of working after leaving post-secondary to discover what she wanted to do with her life, “I had volunteered at a vet clinic when I was in high school and I really enjoyed it. So when I found a job as a kennel attendant at an animal hospital, I knew I had to try it out. That position gave me experience in the field and exposed me to the different job opportunities I didn’t know about before.”
It was there that she learned about the position of an Animal Health Technologist and went on to study that at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Since her parents had already paid for her first attempt at education, she used student loans and savings to pay her way.
When asked what piece of advice she would give to students about to graduate high school, she had this to say:
“You don’t need to go to school right away. If you feel that pressure like I did, go for something small. Targeted certificates and diplomas give you marketable skills so that you can find a job and work, while you learn more about yourself and what you want out of your future.”
This fall will mark Amanda’s entry into her fourth and final year of her Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick. She’s also turning 28 this fall. In contrast to Megan, Amanda knew she wasn’t certain of what she wanted to do with her future. Because she knew she would have to foot the bill, she wanted to save herself ‘wasted time and money’ and started working right after high school. In the beginning, she thought she wanted to be a chef, so she found a job in a kitchen. It didn’t take long for her to realize that while she really enjoyed cooking, being a chef was not for her.
“Finding out what you don’t like is also important,” Amanda says, “It’s okay to not know what you want to do. If you’re trying something out, be it a program or a job, and you aren’t enjoying it, there’s no shame in stopping.”
Amanda spent five years between her high school graduation and her entrance into university. It was while she was practicing for a roller derby tournament and broke her ankle that Amanda found what she was looking for. While working with her physiotherapist, Amanda was exposed to a career she never thought she would be interested in.
“Breaking my ankle was the best thing I ever did for my academic career,” she laughs, “Sure, it’s weird being older than everyone else, but I’m also more driven. I’ve had time to mature and I have a goal.”
When asked what advice she would give to high school students, this is what she had to say:
“It’s important to try new things. Be open to new experiences. If you’re interested in something, reach out to those involved in it. Remember: no one is living your life for you. You get the final say.”
There’s such a push, a rush, to finish high school and head off immediately to post-secondary. I felt it when I was at that point and there’s no doubt that you or someone you know has felt it too. We need to go to school and get a job immediately. For those of us who aren’t certain about our paths, rushing into something can hurt us more than help.
For those of you who are uncertain, who aren’t confident in your next steps, I hope you’ve learned a little bit in reading this. You don’t have to rush. Taking your time and being genuine as you explore your options can help you mature and get comfortable with the career you’ve chosen.
Now take a deep breath, and open that door to your future.
About “The Navigator”
“The Navigator” is a monthly blog about student life by the Campus Manitoba Virtual Help Desk. Check back monthly to find more tidbits of wisdom with “The Navigator”. You’ll be sure to find all kinds of information that will help you be successful in your educational journey. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more news and information!