Getting straight A’s in exams, catching up on last minute assignments, creating slides for your next presentation early in the morning—this is what students are supposed to think of in university or college.
Do this, do that, and you’ll be sure to get that golden A you’ve been working so hard for. We were promised that good marks will lead to a good future and a stable career.
But, is that really how things work out?
For some, the answer might be a straight yes. But to others, life doesn’t always come neatly wrapped up with a ribbon. Those who are feeling a bit more adventurous and want to go off the beaten track might take a gap year before continuing their higher studies.
While it may be common practice in the United States and European countries, in Malaysia it’s still a fairly foreign concept.
But it looks like Malaysia might be going through some changes soon.
The Higher Education Ministry has recently announced that they will begin to roll out the Gap Year 2017 programme in September for undergraduates to explore their interests outside purely academic studies.
So, what exactly is a gap year?
A gap year is basically a year off where students can either go work, travel, volunteer, or research. Students can take this opportunity to get some life experience that isn’t confined to classroom walls.
It’s completely up to students to decide what they want to do while their on a gap year. It just depends on the student’s goals, budget, and time constraints.
As a person who has taken a gap year before, it was a wonderful experience that has benefitted me in more ways than one.
However, while many think this is an amazing idea, there are others who beg to differ. I’m still a student now and you might think that I’m “behind” because I took a year off. I went through a whole gamut of objections too before heading out on my own experience.
Naysayers online and in real life that have been voicing a few key concerns over and over again. Here’re some of them and why I think they’re exaggerated.
1. Taking a gap year is a waste of time.
Many people think that taking a gap year might be a huge time-waster. There are concerns that the students might fall behind or feel left out. After all, their friends will be moving on in their courses while they are just figuring out what to pack into their luggage.
Not denying it.
There is a potential for students to waste time. However, that’s usually because of poor planning and lack of management. Sometimes, a lack of goals may be a problem as well. If people don’t know what they’re aiming for, then they won’t know what steps to take as they have nothing to work towards.
It can be disheartening as well to see friends move on with their lives, enrolling in colleges and continuing their studies while you are “left behind”.
There is a solution.
Just plan ahead. If you choose to take a gap year, be clear on what you are going to do. Are you travelling or are you volunteering at a different country? What do you hope to achieve from taking a gap year?
I felt a little depressed when pictures on social media showed my friends attending college orientations and classes, but I also needed a break from the classroom environment.
I already knew what I wanted to achieve from my gap year and I had weighed the pros and cons before I took the step, so no lasting regrets there.
2. Graduating earlier is better.
The idea of graduating early and securing a stable position in the working world as soon as possible is all part of the rat race we were taught to embrace.
Since this is all students ever wanted to aim for, a gap year may seem unimportant to them.
The endless run to stay ahead.
Diverging off the the mainstream path of graduating as fast as possible is a big step for students.
There is also the worry that students will find it more difficult to start studying again as they have lost the momentum and interest for it after completing their gap year.
As seen by convention, students should join the working world as soon as possible to kickstart their contributions back to family and society. They should work as soon as possible, because climbing the career ladder is going to take a long, long time.
But… ever heard of the tortoise and the hare?
While this fear may be true, the lessons that I learnt during my gap year were more helpful than my college classes. What I experienced helped me to cultivate my own independence and maturity.
Through the different ups and downs during my gap year, I learnt to be more open to new situations. I was a very timid and quiet kid. Being thrown into a situation where I had to interact and work together with strangers in a place far from home helped me come out of my shell.
These are lessons that I needed, to grow as a person. I think they will hold me in good stead in whatever I choose to embark on next. Rather than rushing ahead into academia, I had the opportunity to take the time to explore who I was and what I wanted to be.
Slow and steady, rather than charge forward and burn out. At the end of the day, it’s not a race to see who graduates first and joins the working world the earliest.
3. The students aren’t going to be able to afford the cost.
Money is another main concern as a gap year might be a bit expensive. Due to student loans, poor economy, and other financial issues, students may undoubtedly feel that a gap year may not be the best idea for them.
Yes, you should care about finances.
There is no doubt, that money can be a big and one of the most annoying requirements for a gap year. Everything needs money, and gap years can cost quite an amount. For students who are under loans, they will find it very challenging to find the cash for their experience.
And for those who are financially challenged, they might not have enough and would feel uncomfortable spending or asking for cash to complete their gap year.
How I overcame it.
While a gap year is a period to explore and search for what is important to you, it doesn’t mean you have to travel to do it. For people who tight on money, there are other ways to spend your gap year.
You can choose to work the entire year. It may not sound as exciting as travelling or volunteering but it is a good way to earn some extra income. You can also find out very early if your chosen career path is suitable for you, instead of discovering it three years after slogging for a degree in that field.
However, if you still decide to travel or volunteer during your gap year while low on funds, then it doesn’t need to be a whole year.
Fundraising or asking for sponsors is another way of getting a bit more money for your gap year. I did both and was lucky to get sponsored to go on my volunteering trip. But all of this money planning needs to be done early and should not be taken lightly.
Budgeting while travelling or volunteering can also save you from wasting cash. Just watch what you spend on, read up on tips and tricks to save money and just live frugally if necessary. Taking note of all these also helps students to become more resourceful and hopefully, less reliant on their family for funds.
Make the best out of it
Gap years are a wonderful experience and students who are going to join the workforce need to be prepared not only academically but also in terms of character and with real world experience.
It is important for students to do something worthwhile and constructive outside of school. Career success is not just dependent on academic brilliance; knowing how to take initiative, be independent, and how to deal with others might be even more vital, and these are often best learnt outside the four walls of a classroom.
Feature Image Credit: thezebra.com