A gap year doesn’t need much explanation. You take a year off study to do something else, like volunteering or traveling overseas. Personally, I’ve spent my gap year working on a full-time basis to pay off my student loan. I have found it very useful – a gap year gives you plenty of time to reflect on your achievements at school and plan out what you want to do as an adult.

I plan to go back to university someday to finish a degree in physics, but not everybody goes back to study. You might feel pressure from your parents or school teachers to go and do well at uni, but please think twice before diving into it. Studying at university can be tough and it’s pretty expensive. If you have doubts about how you’ll cope, you might like to consider taking a gap year first. It’ll provide time to consider your future and save up some cash.

To get some outside thoughts on the matter, I chatted to Bradley Johnston, who has taken a gap year to work full-time at Education Perfect Ltd in Dunedin. As he pointed out, university is very different to high school and might not be for everyone.

“Going to university isn’t the same as high school – in school you get shepherded by teachers to make sure you remain somewhat on focus, while at uni you’re expected to know what you want to be doing. It’s important to have a good idea of what you want to do at uni before you get into study, because given how expensive it is, it can be a costly mistake if you study things you aren’t overly interested in for a year or two.”

Unfortunately, everything does come down to money. A full-time university student will spend or borrow at least $5000 a year just to pay their course fees. When you consider the costs of accommodation, textbooks, food and everything else, it becomes a hefty bill. So there’s no point studying if you’re just going to let that money go to waste. If you don’t know what you want to study after school, it would be better to take a year off and consider your options, rather than plunge straight into uni life.

Bradley hopes to return to university some day and he finds that he’s now more motivated to do so.

“Getting a full-time job and working in an entry level position will increase your motivation to actually achieve well when you do go back to uni. Otherwise you’ll end up working in jobs you don’t enjoy for too long.”

“Also, if you find a field you enjoy working in that doesn’t require a degree, you don’t need to go back immediately. There’s a stigma around being an adult learner, but it’s highly respectable to be one as it shows a desire to continue learning and improving oneself.”

Yes, it’s okay to be the oldest in the class if that’s what suits you. Just don’t wait too long… there’s not much practical use in getting a degree after you’ve retired. It’s also worth considering the more notorious aspects of uni life, namely partying.

“After you leave school, you’re much more likely to spend a year frivolously, by enjoying partying seriously for the first time. It’s better to have this coincide with a period of not studying than a period of study,” said Bradley.

Finally, the most helpful advice of all was provided by Sam Ogden, one of Bradley’s colleagues.

“If you do a gap year to work, remember to actually get a job.”