Just finished your A’ Level examination or diploma course this year?

Completing your two years of Junior College life or three years of Polytechnic life is not an easy feat. Congratulations!

Given your short break, you need to make life-changing decisions within a few months. Or what you may deem as life-changing. That is – either your university course or for some, your first job.

Today, we want to be discussing the possibility of wanting to take a gap year.

What is a gap year?

Intuitively, a gap year is a hiatus between your education years where you pause studying to do something else, usually, with the intention of returning to your studies.

In Singapore

In Singapore, the idea of a gap year is exceptional.

The fast-paced and practical nature of Singapore also makes taking a gap year seem special and uncommon as most people seem to believe that you should follow the tradition education pathway of progressing from an education institution to another till you graduate with mortarboard before getting a full-time job.

This is true for the males especially, as they usually have this mindset that they have already “lost two years” to National Service (NS). Their supposed desire for a gap year usually gets fulfilled in between their two years of NS.

For the girls, however, they do not get to enjoy this privilege (or is it lucky that they do not have to go through NS?). That is maybe a discussion for another day.

Hence, here we will be listing down some reasons that may cause people (males and females alike) to consider taking a gap year.

Reasons that cause people to consider taking a gap year

  1. Too many options?

  • Overseas or local?
  • Study Medicine or Law?
  • Study Medicine in NTU/NUS?
  • Study Law in NUS or SMU?
  • Study Business in NUS or Law in SUSS?
  • Study Engineering or Science?
  • Study Civil, Electrical, Mechanical or just Common Engineering?
  • Study Arts or Business?

While others worry about being able to get into university, there are some people who simply have too many options as seen above. This is a sad truth.

Many a time, these are the privileged individuals in our society. They may be lucky to have the financial support needed and/or they may have worked really hard to achieve such options. With too many choices, some may choose to take a year off to consider clearly which choice will be best suited for their long term future.

The dilemma often comes when they have to consider what they truly enjoy or what is deemed as “successful” by society. Or, they may be simply unaware of what they even desire in the first place.

With that, they may believe that taking a gap year can give them ample time to make a sound decision, such as asking seniors, researching on future paths, trying out trial modules or internships that are relevant to the courses.

However, the truth is that they have to know that by taking this gap year, there is a chance that they still end up at the same spot. Are you willing to take this risk?

If you feel that “Yes, I am ready and I have nothing to lose!”, then taking this gap year may be a year that gives you many unexpected experiences if you participate actively in relevant things. This mentality should still hold even if in the end, you still end up not knowing what to choose.

On the other hand, if you feel that “No, I am not sure if I am willing to take this risk. I don’t know”, then you need to be prepared that after that one year off, you still do not know. Of course, there is a chance that you will know too but… Your but(s) will always outweigh your decision.

  1. Too few options?

Next, for others, maybe due to circumstances, portfolio or academic performance, they are limited to certain choices.

These choices may not be what they want. And this is also when they may consider retaking exams or trying alternative routes to get what they want.

For instance, some may choose the following options:

  1. Retake their A levels locally
  2. Retake A levels overseas
  3. Take some foundation years overseas
  4. Work on their portfolio by starting projects/businesses
  5. Volunteering to discover their interest

Hence, these are the people who are sure that they are not satisfied with the options given to them.

Will they thereafter get something they want? What does it mean taking this year off for them?

Taking this gap year may mean they get what they want but, it may also mean otherwise. Other times, it may even help them realise that what they thought they wanted, wasn’t what they want after all. Yet, it can also mean that they decide to settle for what they had the year before. The possibilities are countless.

  1. Family’s and financial support

The fact that many of us will still be under our family’s support financially means that such decisions need to be properly discussed and communicated.

When you take a gap year, some things to consider:

  1. You are sacrificing a year that you could potentially be working as a graduate a few years down the road.
  2. Even if you choose to be working in your gap year, your monthly income is unlikely to be higher than that of a graduate’s years down the road. Where you can then be helping to ease the financial burden of the family.
  3. In this one year, will you be supporting yourself financially or will you be getting an allowance from your parents?

There can be many more to the list but these are things that would require your parents/guardians to consider with you.

Meanwhile, there are also cases where people may want to take a gap year off to earn some income which serves as their allowance in university or to lessen the family burden.

  1. Travel

Tower Bridge in London

While many others may be stressing over university choices, there may be a privileged group of people who are fortunate enough to be able to financially fund their travels to see the world while they are young.

This is for the group of people who probably feel that short trips are not capable of satisfying their travelling needs and would prefer to have more time to explore the world.

Picture taken at Halong Bay, Vietnam

Honestly, this can be a very enriching experience and you may be enlightened in ways you had never expected. Some may also make use of such travels to innovate and create some things valuable. I have seen friends who make use of their travelling experiences to create video contents that they might not have achieved over short trips.

However, this can come at an opportunity cost (or not) if some simply just want to enjoy and rewind for a year before university starts, without achieving anything tangibly.

  1. Rest and experience

Picture taken at Halong Bay, Vietnam

While others have solid plans in mind, there may be a group of people who simply decide to take a year off to just relax and not do anything. After all, most of us had been full-time students since we are 7 years old. A real long break may be needed for some people. After graduation, we may be working all the way until retirement. Hence, some may see this as a good pause to enjoy and experience life. 

  1. Apply overseas (may not be as relevant for army boys)

Source: UCAS

For certain overseas courses and colleges, the application frame may be before or during A’ Level and some people could have skipped it.

Some girls may have to take a gap year off to try their luck on such schools that they had not considered before previously.

For boys, it may not be necessary as they can do so simultaneously with army commitments.

Should you take a gap year?

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

As you can tell from this article, taking a gap year is a risky bet that you are taking.

The benefits may be unexpectedly rewarding, yet, you may achieve “nothing” and go back to square one. However, even if the latter were to happen, the lessons learnt may be rewarding too if you are someone who is reflective.

Personally, I believe that, if you feel like taking the gap year, you should be aware of the opportunity costs and can be responsible for your decision, then, go for it! Yes, take a gap year!

Normally, people do not consider taking gap years because of practicality and the ease of following the crowd. If there is nothing propelling you to take it, do not just take it for the sake of it. If this is you, I would suggest that there is no need to take a gap year.

However, if you have the intentions and forsee a need to take a gap year off, you should know that you have reasons for it. Hence, if you truly checked that you have nothing to lose, then follow your heart and take it.

Do you regret taking a gap year?

Personally, I had taken a gap year too! During my gap year, I did many things that I would not have had the time to do if I had gone to university. I allowed myself to slow down my pace of life and do things according to my own timeline. I know that my few strands of grey hair that appeared during my A’ Level has turned black because I was truly enjoying my pace of life. I did things that I wanted to do consciously and enjoyed it almost entirely.

It was one of the most therapeutic breaks I ever had since the rat race started in primary school. I got to slow down and understand myself as a person.

Will I take a gap year again, if I were to go back in time?

Yes, I would. Despite changing my route after the gap year, it has led me to a life that is wonderfully mine, one that I truly appreciate and embrace. It was a year of much self-discovery.

Do I recommend a gap year to you?

If you came across this article because you were consciously searching for the word “gap year” and had acknowledged the opportunity costs involved, then yes, I would recommend it to you.  I hope that no matter what happens, you are able to see this year as a time not wasted through your mental growth.

However, if gap year was never a thing you had always been thinking about and you had randomly came across this article, then maybe I would not recommend that you take a gap year just for fun, as a year sacrificed is something you can never get back. It is not something to be taken lightly for.

With that, I hope that it has given you a clearer idea of what taking a gap year would mean and all the best to you!

This article is written by Ho Kar Yern a Year 2 accounting student from National University of Singapore who loves a good cup of coffee and weekly mala sessions ~