Gap years are typically reserved for school-leavers who choose retail and hospitality jobs or dirt-cheap backpacking trips over study. Ari did one of those, but then she took another year off at 27. She shares the good, the bad and the ugly of her second time around.
I took time off from studying at 18, but I’ve dipped back into a second gap year at 27. I wanted a breather between finishing my Honours degree and starting a PhD. After submitting my thesis the need to break up what will likely amount to eight years of full-time uni became apparent. I was exhausted.
This year has been my year to relax before diving into academia again, but it has been a world away from my first steps into adult life at 18. Here are seven things I’ve taken away this time.
1. It was excellent for my mental health
Nobody doubts that uni takes a toll, but when your mental health starts deteriorating, it’s time to take a step back. The slow burn of study anxiety had worn me down over the years, and the thought of immediately starting a postgraduate degree just drained me. Taking time off has allowed me to get into the right headspace where I’m genuinely eager to study again.
2. You have more time to travel
After confining trips to slivers of time between semesters, and then being too broke to really make the most of the long summer breaks, taking a late-20s gap year can open up space and money for long-term travel. You’ve probably already done a bit of travelling and likely have a better sense of where you’d like to visit than you would at 18, and picking up a job when you’re backpacking is easier with years of work experience behind you.
3. You have more time to pursue other hobbies and interests
You might not see a stretch of time with this much mental space again for a while, so it’s a great opportunity to work on large-scale creative or political projects. Or, like me, a bunch of little hobbies: gouache painting, learning Korean, and film photography. During my undergraduate degree, I kept assigning fun but unproductive activities to a vague ‘someday in the future’ category, and taking a second gap year has allowed me time to actually do them.
4. It’s a chance to save money and work more
Studying full-time limits your options for work. As a student I juggled five casual jobs to fit around my timetable, often working three in one day. A late-20s gap year gives you the chance to take a full-time job, enjoy all the benefits that go with it, and save a lot of cash for when your postgraduate degree starts and you’re fresh out of large chunks of free time for another several years. I started a full-time office job but quit it to take up gig-based work, finding it more fulfilling, though less financially stable.
5. You might feel like your career growth is stunted
When your fellow graduates immediately progress into professional work or take up a postgraduate degree, it can feel as though you’re treading water. The people you were moving forward with have all continued on the path, and you’ve paused. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and your choice to take time to do something else for a bit is completely valid, but there may be moments you look at everyone else powering on and feel outside the action.
6. Time off can be a shock, intellectually and socially
I lived five minutes from my university campus for years, so being constantly surrounded by ideas, conversations and friends became my norm. Leaving campus but not continuing into professional work left a void, and for the first few months, I struggled to adjust, often feeling bored or lonely without being able to pinpoint why. It took a while to realise if I wanted these things in my life, I’d have to make a consistent effort to read, watch documentaries, and work around friends’ schedules to stay connected.
7. It somewhat diminished my self-confidence
While writing my application for PhD candidature I realised it had been months since I’d glanced at my honours thesis, and I’d forgotten basic aspects of my research. While the point of a late-20s gap year is to take a brief respite from studying, it can diminish confidence in your ability if enough time lapses. In hindsight, I did okay—I completed massive open online courses (MOOCs) in my field and continued reading, but there was still a nagging sense that I was missing out on the immersion necessary to be truly ready for a postgraduate degree.
Ultimately, taking a second gap year was a great decision for me. I was able to recuperate and fully recharge to begin the next demanding chapter of postgraduate study.