School and University are a world apart

Hearing on the radio this year’s annual debate on Gap Years (those listening to BBC London will have heard Linley giving comments in favour of taking a gap year), I want to make the point that I feel is currently missing from the debate

To take a gap year or not to take a gap year? please leave your comments below on what you think…!

Opinion will always be split and arguments will be presented on both sides, nearly always is kept over the heads of those actually leaving school. Exemplified by how few people gave comment on today's Radio show.

It is as if “this debate is too serious for those school leavers, what do they know? All they have done is public examinations etc etc …!” A thought i urge you to hang onto as you read this blog.

I am undoubtedly biased in my opinion on the subject of gap years, however, having taking a gap year, gone to university before founding my own gap year organisation Ticket to Ride – Worldwidesurfing Adventures and taken control of Basecamp Gap Year Ski and Snowboard Courses,  I am also unquestionably experienced on the subjuect.

The point I wish to make is that succeeding at school and then succeeding at university and then in life in general are completely different things.

Today an 18 year old finds him or herself at a unique crossroads when making what is effectively their first “life” decision in the outside world. ie a decision outside the shelter of academia. The domain that they have know for 14 years of their 18 years in the world.

At school, life is very simple (I mean this in a loose sense) you attend class, if you don’t you are in trouble, you do your homework, you revise hard and take the same exams that years of pupils have taken before you under the guidance of proffesional trained teachers. The academic path from 4-18 is a well trodden one and there are fantastically talented teachers there to guide you through.

At university, 90% of your time is your own, rather than teachers you have tutors many of whom are only really  there for some extra money on the side, access to university resources and space to further their own academic studies. Your academic path is far less important to them than their own. I am aware this is a sweeping comment, however this is my view made out of my own experience of univerisity where i studied Politics.

There is very little guidance at university, tutors care very little if you attend their classes and even less if you do or do not submit 2000 of your own words on a subject that merely scratches the surface of the indepth of knowledge they have.

At 18 the world is at your feet, and for the first time, what you do is up to you. To merge school and university into one seemless transition is for many 18 year olds absolutely not the best way to go.
Take fresher’s week for example –  a night fuelled by 2 for 1 on triple vodka’s and then up at 8.00 for the first lecture at 9.00. This is as realistic as England winning a penalty shoot out in the world cup final. It probably could happen but you wouldn’t bet on it.
Outside the comforts of school, and into the throws of university there is a completely new social dynamic, one of independence and vast opportunity. Get it right and the world will once again be at your feet.

Get being a student wrong and you at best come out of university 3 years later…..

1)deep in debt – having never really grasped the concept of earning money and how to spend in relation to the what is actually in  your bank account.

2)with no real friends – having never really learnt how to infiltrate the slightly more confident group that learned social skills whilst travelling the world.

3) no wiser than you when you arrived – no one seemed to mind if you were too hungover to get out of bed for that weekly stats lecture. I won’t be in trouble if I don’t go so I wont go (typical school mentality).
I realise that I am being dramatic, however from my experience at university it was clear to see who had and who had not taken a gap year. To play out the scenario again for someone that did take a gap year

1) deep in debt – on your gap year you gained a qualification or some experience that gave you the opportunity to work during university holidays (university holidays account for more of  the academic year than actual term time). You also learnt not to overspend remembering the time you made that mistake whilst travelling the world where the consequences of having no money were far more real.

2) no friends – remembering it is who you know not what you know, you found walking into a hall of residence bar at the beginning of the year, to be no more intimidating than the bar you walked into on your gap year. Although initially intimidating your learned that if you don’t know them, they don’t know you and  by being open and approachable the person standing next to you could become a friend for life and someone you have a lot in common with. Opening a conversation, with something like “did you get that t-shirt in Bali? I have also been there…..” as apposed to “was Exeter your first choice on your UCAS application…? Can be the key to surrounding yourself with the right friends at university.

3) no wiser – taking a gap year is no guarantee however, a year away from studying  undoubtedly gives you some perspective on whether the decision you made at the tender of age of 17 to study French and Russian was the right one. For those of you that think a gap year is a waste of time, I would argue that an unfinished degree is a comparatively cataclysmic waste of time.

Taking a gap years  fosters the kind of independent thought and motivation that can be the difference between failing a degree or passing with honours.

Whilst at university, you remember the week in Sydney when all you seemed to do was party all night and sleep all day, looking back on that you wished you had slept more at night and seen more of Sydney in the day. A lessoned learned from personal experience is far more powerful than those fuelling the debate on gap years, nearly all of whom are delving into their own nostalgia.

Growing up, making mistakes and learning from them is universally accepted as what life is all about. With the onset of increased tuition fees, the idea of setting time(roughy 1% of your life if you agree with the notion that we are all going to start living longer)  outside of expensive education to learn from real life experience broaden your personality outside the grip of academia is certainly an idea that merits  further consideration
Hindsight is a powerful thing and a Gap Year is an immensely time effective way to understand some of life’s most simple teachings. Too simple to even be covered by essays and exams and that is that life is what you make it.

What you achieve in education offers you potential, what you do outside of education defines you!

Thanks for reading


Co-Founder of the Ticket to Ride Group

The ticket to ride group represents a collection of specialised adventure, travel and lifestyle organisations; independently offering surf, kitesurf, ski and snowboard training, focused on globally recognised qualifications, worldwide travel and a positive impact on the local community.