If someone had told me a year ago that I would have dropped out of university to take a gap year, I would never have believed them.
I started to feel strange on the first day of fresher’s week. I had been dropped off on the Saturday and had a chilled day on the Sunday, and I was ready to drink until I was blind. I was so excited, I had finally moved out and was ready to meet new people and study my dream course and basically be an adult.
However, waking up on the Monday morning, I knew something wasn’t right. I felt tense, my entire body felt like it had pins and needles and I felt intense nervous feelings in my stomach and the top of my spine. This definitely wasn’t just a hang over…
I couldn’t sit still, and I didn’t understand what these feelings were or why I was having them. Regardless, I still went to the events. I was studying social work, so every day we had introduction lectures where we met our personal tutors, peer mentors and fellow students. But I just could not concentrate. The second day came, and I woke up at 5am in sweats and felt incredibly nauseous. It wasn’t until when my mum phoned me asking if I was okay that I completely broke down and had my first panic attack.
How would you spend a gap year? ✈️🌴💼 #GapYear
— OpinionPanel (@OpinionPanelC) November 30, 2018
The week felt like a year. I wasn’t eating, I was waking up every morning at 5am being sick, I could never sit still or concentrate, my parents even came to visit me the next weekend but I still felt wrong. It got to the first day of starting the course and I still felt wrong. I had realised by that point that what I was experiencing was anxiety, and by the next Tuesday I could not fight it anymore, so I went to the head of the department and asked to defer my place for a year, and then I came home.
It’s not all doom and gloom! I spent a few weeks at home before I started looking for jobs. In November I was offered a job as a Christmas temp at John Lewis and I cannot even begin to explain what a brilliant experience it was, I saw what the real world was like for the first time in my life, as I didn’t have school or my parents acting as a filter to protect me from it. This was my first full time job and it has encouraged me to go back to university! It showed me how much time and effort ‘real work’ takes from you, and that, in reality, I actually wasn’t ready for it. But I could never have realised that without the experience.
As disheartening and to be quite honest traumatising as it all was, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of it. And now, I have another year to earn more and grow more; an opportunity that a lot of people who just went straight into university haven’t had. I cannot recommend it more.
If you are tempted to do a gap year, oh my god do it. There are no downsides other than it is a bit shitty when your friends who go are having a great time getting drunks and meeting new people, but your time will come!! A gap year gives you a whole extra year to save more money so that you have less debt, to learn skills ie cooking and cleaning, and gives you time to grow and get to know yourself. I cannot recommend it more.
My advice to those who are currently at university but are tempted to drop out is that only you know you. If you’re unsure, stay for as long as you can before you know in your heart that it isn’t right. Also, if you do make that decision, you must have a solid plan in place for what you can do next, may it be a job until you feel you can go back to university, or a full time job or an apprenticeship. It is so tempting to just go home and not do anything, as it will most likely be the first time you have ever had the opportunity to not study and work for a year, but you gotta do it.