by Caitriona Potter
The Leaving Cert is a hectic time for Irish students across the country. The countless hours spent revising, stressing and debating all the opportunities ahead of you, may leave you feeling overwhelmed. A CAO decision that could potentially shape the rest of your life is no small feat. Perhaps you know the course you want and have been planning on it all your life ! But for many others, a good break from all the stress and worry is just what the doctor ordered to clear the mind and think about your options with fresh eyes. A Gap Year is a perfect opportunity to spend time getting to know yourself and what actually makes you happy. If you plan it right and make the best of it, a gap year could be the best thing you do to prepare you for college. Below are 5 things i wish I knew before taking my gap year. Enjoy!
1) Where will you live?
Are you going to live at home or move out for the first time? Are you going to travel? This is something you need to consider carefully . You will want to carefully consider all your options here and figure out which is best suited to you. If you have some money saved, moving out is a great opportunity to build your life skills without the extra pressure of adapting to a new way of college life too. You will learn invaluable lessons that will make the move to college a walk in the park the following year. I moved out of home and it was the best thing I ever did!
Advantage; Gain life skills & confidence
Disadvantage; Can be costly
Perhaps you already have a job in your home town and you want to continue working there for your gap year. You will save a lot of money this way which you will thank yourself for when you move to college!!
Advantage; Save a lot of money
Disadvantage; Can be boring and or lonely, if all your friends have moved out – FOMO is real!!
2) What will you do?
This sounds silly but it’s all too easy to be tempted by a year out with no real plan in place and you essentially feel like you’re on a holiday. You need to decide; are you going to work? Is there a skill or hobby you want to develop and take a course in? Are you going to work hard for half the year so you can travel for the second half? Once you are out of school there are so many opportunities before you that don’t involve going straight to college. This is perhaps the first time in your life where you are free to discover all your options without being tied down. Follow your heart with this one, it won’t steer you too wrong !
3) Don’t listen to your friends!
It is so easy to be discouraged in your great plans of freedom by your friends who are all going straight to college. If I could tell myself one thing last year- when I was making this decision- it would be this: If you are thinking of taking a year out, you are thinking this for valid reasons and it is something you genuinely want. You will not be lazy, you will not forget about college and you are definitely not stupid for considering this break! Your friends are likely following their parents advice, who have their best interests at heart, not yours! Only you know what is the right decision for you. If you’re brave enough for thinking outside the box and not following the crowd, you will make the right decision. Going into a course you don’t want just to fit in with your friends who are going off to college is the surest way to become really unhappy! This life is yours and you make the calls now. You’re no longer revolving your life around exams and you’re free to discover your own passions.
4) Why are you doing this?
You must get clear on what your goal is for the year. In addition to the most common goal which is to save some money, think about who you would like to be in a years time, heading off to college? Would you like to be fitter and healthier, would you like to get better at a talent you have, would you like to gain experience in a particular field that will stand invaluable to you? It can be so easy to get FOMO (fear of missing out) when you see your friends having a good time and you may even begin to regret your decision unless you’re clear on why you’re doing it.
If you have a goal you can work towards, your days will be more meaningful and you can look back and be proud of the person you’ve grown into in the year! You have a whole year to yourself, essentially, and you can become anything you want! Whether you want to work on your fitness and improve your body, get really good at art/ film making/ journalism, or whether you want to clock up hours of experience in a particular field to make your CV extra impressive, the decision is entirely yours! Think about it, dream big and make it happen!
5) Get clear on your plan for the year after.
The aim of a year out is to spend the year getting to know yourself better. You should be writing down things that interest you, potential CAO courses, and what you can see yourself doing in the following years. Your interests will change so much in the year, and it’s important to keep track . If you spend your year working in a restaurant for example, and you love the work environment, the people and the hours, perhaps you realise you don’t want to go to college ? You could work your way up the ladder and become a manager of the restaurant if that’s what makes you happy. Or perhaps you work for the year and you realise the importance of getting a degree and not having to work in a certain job for the rest of your life! Only experience can help you see this. Perhaps a life event happens unexpectedly and you realise your dream career, one which you never considered while in school! What you don’t want to do is “wing it” in my opinion, because it’s all too easy to enjoy getting paid and you put college off for another year, without carefully considering if that’s what you really want. Only you can make this decision . If you have a clear plan for the following year, whether that is to stay in your job or go to college, you will have the peace of mind knowing you’re making yourself happy and others’ opinions won’t throw you off.
Hopefully you now have a better idea of what taking a year out will be like, and if it’s something you want to do. It is a lot of responsibility, perhaps for the first time in your adult life, but if you plan it right you will have the best time learning and growing and getting to know yourself ! Plan it carefully, listen to yourself , and have fun!