“I don’t regret my years off, nor do I regret any of my minimum wage jobs because they contributed greatly to my wanting to go back to school.” – Me (Cassy Goulding)
The topic of high school graduates taking a gap year came up earlier this past spring, as President Obama’s daughter Malia decided to wait before heading to college (See articles from Global News, Huffington Post, and NewsHour). This is an option that may scare parents, but it really shouldn’t.
When I was in high school I thought that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and which post secondary school I would attend. My life centred around the visual arts and I maintained good grades in order to achieve honours for all four years in high school. In both grade 8 and grade 12 I was chosen for the annual ‘Faces of the Future’ acknowledgement that gets published in the local paper. This tradition features bright and promising students and encourages readers to watch for their success in the coming years.
I often laughed at the Faces of the Future mentions that I got as I graduated high school, was accepted into Sheridan College, and finally decided to take some time off from school. I felt that they had made a mistake and that I was not what they had thought I would be, but I think that I’ve still got a chance. My face, body, and mind just took advantage of a longer timeline to get to a future that can make a mother proud.
My parents were really great; I was lucky to have a mom and dad who supported me in everything that I tried in life including taking a break. Other adults frequently told me that my parents shouldn’t have let me take time off after high school because I would never go back to further my education, but they did and I think it was the best decision for me.
I was born in December which means that I started school when I was 3 years old and graduated high school when I was 17. I was not yet old enough to vote, win the lottery, or legally drink – I was barely old enough to have my G2 licence! I was a good kid (with an emphasis on kid) and I wasn’t ready to live on my own and go to school anymore than some of my 18-year-old fellow peers.
The Ontario Academic Credit (OAC), also known as grade 13, was eliminated from the Ontario school systems in 2003 and has left high school graduates one year younger (See Alan Slavan’s article on University Affairs). One year’s difference may not result in drastic maturation of a teen’s brain, however, it could allow for other benefits like saving money, time to plan their future, or even time to realize the importance of an education. This last benefit was the most important one to me personally and I discovered it after almost four years after I graduated high school.
During my four years off I dabbled in attempts at modelling, singing, and I even completed a one-year certificate art program at a local college to keep practised. Mainly, I worked retail and barista jobs which included cleaning public toilets. These were jobs that required a lot of hard work and smiling while serving grumpy customers for very little money.
I don’t regret my years off, nor do I regret any of my minimum wage jobs because they contributed greatly to my wanting to go back to school.
I eventually realized that you often need the credential of a college or university diploma to get decent salary paying jobs these days. I also appreciated the concept of a stable career that provided financial security and health benefits which meant that working as a freelance illustrator was no longer my main career goal.
I chose to study communications because it would allow me to bring my creativity into professional settings and outlets. Waiting four years after high school didn’t only allow me to mature a bit more, but at age 21 (22 that December), I entered university with a lot more focus than I would have at 17. I had passed my early years of partying, didn’t waste money on a program that I might have dropped out of, and was able to receive the full benefits of OSAP because I was now considered a mature student.
I just want to tell parents of teenagers to not be afraid of letting them take a break. Remember how stressful it is to be that age and give them a choice in life. The time off post-high school graduation can teach your kids valuable life lessons that they don’t learn in classrooms and could possibly save you money (if you’re able to help pay their tuition of course).
By supporting your teen in their choice to take a gap year (or four), you are helping combat the myth that some parents believe: that youth won’t go back to school if they take a break. What do your kids want to do? Do they know? If not, maybe they need some time to figure things out before coming out on top!
Life Lesson: Everyone has their own unique timeline and shouldn’t be expected to fit into an outdated one. There isn’t one right way to get through life, there are many paths with many different endings.