For those of you who are in the process of sitting your A Levels, a lot of emphasis is placed on what the next step will be. For most of you, that will be university. While university was always going to be the next step in my plan, I decided pretty early on in my A Level studies that I needed to take a gap year. This was a big decision for me and, in some ways, felt like an admission that I wasn’t capable, but it’s a decision that I never regretted making because I knew it was right for me at the time.
Mental Health Break
I’ve mentioned before that I really struggled with depression and anxiety during A Levels and that this affected my studies. The truth was, I had completely fallen out of love with learning due to the pressures that my school put on us to get the grades they wanted. At that point, the thought of embarking on another four years of studies straight away would make me feel physically ill. Taking a year out, then, allowed me to step back from all of this: the pressures, the expectations and the workload. By the end of the year, I was in the best mental state I had been for as long as I could remember, and I was finally excited for the new challenge ahead of me!
A Chance to Earn Money
Every gap year is unique to the person taking it. For some people, a gap year is a chance to travel and find themselves. For me, it was an opportunity to earn some money. I’d had a part time job through school but on my gap year this became almost full time. This allowed me to start saving up for the costs of living alone, paying rent, feeding myself and the social expenses associated with university. As a result, I was able to start university without the added pressure of financial concerns that plague so many students these days. It also meant that I wouldn’t have to get a job during term time so I could focus solely on my studies.
A Year Older, A Year Wiser
A cliché but one that was entirely applicable to my situation. When I finished A Levels, I quite simply wasn’t ready and wasn’t prepared for university on any level. Taking a year out allowed me the time I needed to get ready. Some of it was deliberate, I learnt to cook, I dedicated time to keeping up and improving my languages and slowly forced myself to become more independent. Some of it was more subtle and it was only looking back that I realised how much I had grown and grown up. My job involved a lot of interaction with customers which really helped my social skills, it also came with a lot of responsibility which helped build my self-confidence. To this day, when I’m in a situation where I’m not quite comfortable, I switch to that in-built waitress mode and get through it.
I have no doubts that, for me, taking a year out of studying was the absolute right decision. In fact, if I hadn’t done this, I doubt I would have made it through my first semester at Leicester, let alone be preparing to become a final year student. As you sit your exams and look onwards to results day and everything that comes after, remember that taking a break is always an option and may just give you the headspace that you need to flourish at university.