Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Why you should consider taking a gap year before university

A shot of me in a field holding a black canvas bag with the phrase 'life-changing' wearing a white top and brown leopard print trousers
It’s been two years since I finished my A levels and I still get anxiety when I see #Alevelresultsday trending on Twitter. This year, results day is different from usual, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and results are uncertain because students weren’t able to sit their exams. Will they get their predicted grades based on their mocks? Will they get a grade based on statistics that will affect African-Caribbean and working-class students the most? It’s very much a waiting game but if you don’t get the results you wanted, it’s not the end of the world and there are so many routes to get to where you want to be.

I made the decision to take a gap year on a bit of a whim with little to no thought on how the year would plan out but it couldn't have gone better. Admittedly, I wish I had planned my year and travelled more but I did so many other amazing things that made the year even more worthwhile.

Here's an extract from an interview I did with BBC bitesize on taking a gap year:
A extract from an interview I had with BBC bitesize on my decision to take a gap year and words of encouragement for A level results day

Had I gone to university that year, as planned, I wouldn't have received the job offers and work experience I did, I wouldn't have met the new friends I made, I probably would've given up on my blog and I certainly wouldn't have started my podcast. I now truly believe that everything happens for a reason. A decision I made two years ago has put me on the path that I was supposed to walk on.

It’s been a year since I finished my gap year and I thought now would be a good time to reflect on my experience and share what I have learnt following a year out of education. 

01. If a situation makes you unhappy, leave.
At the beginning of my gap year, I worked at Mcdonalds as a 'Customer Care Assistant' aka a cleaner. I started working there as a crew member and I was promoted to the customer care role after a year. As my 2nd year of working there approached, I started to feel unhappy. I would often call one of my friends while walking home, to cry about how awful the shift had been. Customers speak to you like sh*t when you work at Mcdonald's, I know this is the case in most customer-facing roles but the abuse you face from customers while working at Mcdonald's is next level. I quickly realised that a job that reduces you to tears is not a job worth having. I identified the reasons and the people who were making me feel the way I did and filed a grievance against the colleagues responsible. I felt relieved. I started applying for new jobs almost immediately and landed a job at ASOS. Within two weeks of filing my grievance, I'd handed in my notice and left. I instantly felt a lot happier. I told myself that from this day, if a job made me unhappy, especially to the point of crying, I would leave. 

02. The grass is NOT always greener 
Remember when I said my first day at ASOS was the best first day ever? I lied. It wasn't bad but I didn't feel how I thought I should feel about a new job. I walked into the office and felt anxious. The fashion world was not my cup of tea. This feeling went on for two weeks and on Sunday, the day before my third working week, I woke up, emailed my line manager and quit the job with immediate effect. 

03. Your mental health should always come first 
This is pretty self-explanatory but nothing should ever come before your mental health. Your mental health can make you or break you, take care of it. 

04. Being single really ain't that bad 
With my current level of independence, I can see myself dying single and I'm not mad. I used to think marriage was the be-all and end-all but there's more to life. There's nothing a man can give to me or do for me that I can't give or do myself. Children? I'm happy to adopt. I have found peace with myself. 

05. Food is expensive
I can get a pack of 5 Whirlz aka Twister mini dupes from Aldi for 79p vs going to Tesco for a pack of 8 for £2.20. For 17p more, I can buy 3 packs of Whirlz from Aldi.

06. Outgrowing your friends is normal
I lost a friend in the first few months of my gap year who I had been friends with since the age of 12. I was upset at first but after a few days of letting it digest, I realised that we had outgrown each other and our friendship had served its time and that's okay!

07. Always keep money saved
Do you have a savings account? No? Open one immediately and put whatever you can, weekly or monthly and do NOT touch it unless you're in need. Wanting a new pair of shoes is not a need and does not warrant taking money out of your savings!

08. Take every opportunity you can, especially the ones outside of your comfort zone
At the beginning of this gap year, I was terrified of heights. A friend of mine asked if I would do a skydive with him to raise money for a charity close his heart, I couldn't say no. I did it and conquered my fear of heights, read the full story here

09. Don't compare your journey 
Over my gap year, I have found myself comparing my journey to those around me, particularly my peers. "So and so just bought a brand new car", "So and so just graduated" "So and so bought their first flat", you are on your own journey, going at your own pace, I will buy my dream car one day, I will graduate even if its years later than my peers and I will buy my own property when my time comes. 

10. Take time out
A day, a week, a month, a year or a few years, it's good for the soul.

11. It's not bullsh*t, you find yourself
365 days, 525600 minutes, 8760 hours... a year is a long time! I am not the same person I was at the beginning of this journey and in a month, I won't be the same person who is writing this. You learn new things, bump into new people, overcome hurdles, conquer old fears and develop new ones. You're on a constant journey to discovering your full capabilities and the true purpose of your life.

So, was the gap year worth it? Absolutely. 

Do I feel behind my friends? In the beginning, yes but now? No. 

Was I more prepped for uni? I don't think you can ever be fully prepped but I did feel more mentally prepared than I did in 2018.

What skills did I gain? Leadership, better communication, better time management, professionalism, better money management, confidence and more independence. 

I gained a lot of work experience, grew my blog, I made new friends, saved a lot of money, conquered a fear, visited a country on my travel bucket list, secured a spot at uni (again) and got my head in a better place. I now know what I want from life, the career I want, the people I want to surround myself with etc. Life can only go onwards and upwards from this point.

For those of you taking a gap year and doubting your decision, you won't always have this opportunity to take a year-long break but you will always be able to go to uni. 

Good luck to everyone going into their first year!

Francisca 
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