After leaving college, young people are suddenly faced with an abundance of expectations and opportunities. It can feel somewhat overwhelming to be abruptly thrown into a world where you have the choice to do as you wish. There is an underlying realisation that your actions now are likely to reflect your success and potential for the future and therefore, the decisions that you make when you are eighteen are not to be taken lightly.
We must simultaneously battle through stressful exams, the delightful UCAS, and our fretting parents, all of which can cause the pressure to mount up and prospect of the future to seem a little terrifying. Don't get me wrong; at the end of sixth form, many are ready to fly the nest, but the question of where to fly to is often a little burdensome.
And so, sat in my school career's office, there was a certain amount of hesitation from my end when I was asked the question: "What are you planning on doing with your future?" Intent on going to university eventually but unsure whether I wanted to throw myself straight back in to full-time education, I found myself asking: "To gap year or not to gap year?"
The option of university does provide a sense of comfort and safety. Being surrounded by young people, independent to an extent, yet still very much aided by those around us, it offers a slow progression into adult life without being completely dropped into the deep end.
However, the alternative of a gap year is also incredibly alluring. I could certainly see myself swanning around South East Asia or taking off to Australia for a year of freedom, adventure and enlightenment.
With more and more young people attending university, this question is one that is shared by many. After much consideration, I decided to go straight to university, with the intention of travelling when it was over and during the long summers that university would provide.
However, I know many people who, not quite ready to face lectures and essays, went travelling for the year and have not looked back. The typical six month saving period is a difficult one. Hearing about Fresher's Week antics and university life is not so enjoyable when you're working nine till five and still living with your parents. However once the travelling money it earned, it's the students who are left crawling with jealousy. For months my Facebook Wall was plagued with tanned faces, smiling from all around the world. Activities ranged from volunteering, working abroad, bungee jumping, scuba diving...the list goes on.
When I went back home for the holiday, I spoke to my friend Caroline who had decided to take a gap year, pursuing language lessons in Spain before travelling to Costa Rica to volunteer for three months. She said: "I chose to take a gap year because I wanted to take a break from school and the pressures that follow it - I wanted to recharge. It is definitely the best decision I have ever made! I loved traveling and getting to experience another side to life. I was finally doing something apart from just accomplishing academically. You don't delay the 'real world' on a gap year, you face it head on."
If you have no idea what you wish to study, a year abroad could be a good option as the experiences you have may give direction to your future. However, if you already know what you wish to do, applying to university and then deferring your place relieves the pressures of having to apply on your year off and means that you already have a secure spot when you return.
Coming to the end of an absolutely amazing first year at university, I do not regret my decision. It was the best option for me at the time and my university experience has exceeded all expectations. I've thrown myself into university life, progressing academically as well as joining societies and activities that reflect my interests and passions for the future. I would say that amongst my group of friends at university, the 'took a gap year' to 'went straight to university' ratio is fairly balanced and all stand by their decision with no regrets.
I have therefore come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter which one you pick. Both guarantee a great and eye-opening experience. You can always go travelling after university, just like you can always go to university after travelling. If you want to do both, you merely have to decide on the order in which you wish to do it.