Recent graduates are now waiting with bated breath for QTAC offers to be finalised and offered – but taking a gap year might be better than jumping straight into uni life.

After twelve years of schooling thousands of seventeen-year-olds from across the state are spat out of the system and told to choose a life path – a task that is understandably daunting to most. Taking a gap year offers an alternative as students don’t have to decide right away and can give themselves more time to work out what they want to do – but is a gap year really the solution?

A recent study by University of Sydney researchers revealed students who take gap years achieve higher university results than those entering straight after high school or as mature age students. 

“Post-school education is a new chapter, a fresh start, a blank slate – it’s yours to make of it what you will,” says lead author Professor Andrew Martin. “The year following school is a chance to shape something new. This might mean a constructive year off as a gap year.”

Constructive being the key word. A yearlong bender or twiddling your thumbs won’t be beneficial, whereas anything that tests your abilities will be – for example volunteering, travelling or learning a language.

To take a gap year or not? Here are the pros…

  • Self-exploration: If you’re not sure what you want to do, taking a gap year to explore fields you’re interested in through internships, short courses or volunteering can really help. 
  • Refresh yourself: After twelve years of schooling, heading into three or more years of academia can seem daunting for exhausted students.“I didn’t want to go to uni, I was done with school,” says Maddie Fleming, who took a gap year in 2010 volunteering with wildlife conservation efforts in South Africa. “A gap year gives you some time to work out what you want to do. Everyone should consider one, you get out of your comfort zone and get some life experience.”
  • Time to grow: Working full-time or travelling abroad for a year can really give maturity other students won’t have, giving you the advantage of being self-motivated and independent, which will carry through to study habits.
  • Show me the money: Earning for a year can put a big dint in university fees and help to cover some of the expenses (like textbooks or visits to the uni bar) incurred by studying. You’ll only be able to work part-time while at uni so having a nest egg of savings before you start can be a big help.

…and the cons:

  • Getting out of the groove: a year off can mean losing momentum and focus. Many friends who took time off before uni commented on how hard it was to get their brains into gear when settling down into study again, so if you particularly struggle with motivation taking a gap year might not be the best route.
  • Destination: procrastination: Without a goal or plan for your gap year, you might find yourself whiling hours away in front of the TV or on computer games – not exactly the most productive use of your time. Consider enrolling in short courses for the year to give yourself some structure – this way you won’t feel you’ve “wasted” the year, but will still get to enjoy some time off.
  • Time delay: You’ll be a year behind your peers, and your first courses will all be with people a year younger than you – but this isn’t too much of an issue. With students constantly changing their degrees and classes, you’ll find a melting-pot of ages once you reach your second year.
  • The big expense: Travelling for a year is costly, so unless you plan to work alongside your adventure or have savings to rely on, you’ll end up starting your course already deep in debt. Consider working full-time for six months and travelling the rest of the time to help with the burden.

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide whether a gap year is best for them – as long as you stay productive and create goals for yourself, it can be a truly worthwhile experience.

Do you know someone who’s taken a gap year? Share your stories!