Every other day, someone asks me why I took a gap year and how I’ve used my time. Taking a gap year after junior college (JC) has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, so I’m very happy to share about my experience, especially for anyone considering a gap year in Singapore.
Why did you take a gap year?
My main objective was to gather information through trying as many things as possible, to make better-informed decisions about university and beyond.
By the middle of my A-Level year, I had a long list of courses and careers I was interested in. I had attended many education and career guidance (ECG) events and tried an internship and ad hoc jobs while schooling. However, I still felt that my experiences were too limited for me to confidently commit to one specific path for the long term. Because some of the pathways I was considering could make it prohibitively costly for me to change my mind later, I did not want to make hasty decisions.
I scoured the internet to read about others’ gap year experiences, and to see what opportunities may or may not be available to me. I made a detailed plan of what I would spend each month doing. I contacted scholarship providers I was interested in to check if my eligibility would be affected. Finally, I created a comprehensive and detailed list of pros and cons. For me, the pros of taking a gap year outweighed the cons.
What have you done on your gap year?
Always with my main objective in mind, I went for breadth rather than length. Since my JC graduation, I’ve tried 5 full-time positions in diverse roles and organisations.
For JC graduates considering a gap year, finding these opportunities may be difficult, as many organisations only hire polytechnic or university student interns, but it’s still very possible. Do not be disheartened by rejections. Sometimes, doors do open when you knock – with respect, perseverance and sincere enthusiasm! You can show your sincerity by learning what you can about a role or organisation you’re interested in. For example, I was interested in UI/UX Design, so I found and completed free basic online courses on UX, graphic design, and writing copy. Also, many kind people are open to sharing their experiences and advice, if you take the initiative to ask.
On the side, I gave private tuition and worked other ad hoc jobs, from dethorning roses at the florist’s to editing texts translated to English. Although I had little prior theatre experience, I tried my luck and got the chance to learn and perform in international theatre events in Thailand and Cambodia. I’ve also continued to broaden my perspectives through volunteering, learning new languages, watching free online courses, and reading.
All these experiences have helped me immensely in clarifying my strengths, interests, and values.
Would you recommend others to take a pre-university gap year?
I think it is an underrated and overlooked option in Singapore, and I would recommend most students to at least explore the option, especially those who don’t have two mandatory gap years in National Service.
However, it’s definitely more suitable for some students than others. Here are some factors to consider:
Because of the lack of prescribed structure, those who want to take a gap year should be clear about their motivations and goals, and be confident that they can keep track of important deadlines on their own.
A gap year is more beneficial to those looking at pathways that make it difficult to change direction later, such as those that come with employment bonds or many years of training in very niche areas. For others, a gap year may not be as necessary as you can figure out your interests through trying different classes, extracurriculars, and internships while in university, or even in the 8-month gap that most people have between A-Levels and university.
Gap years may not be financially preferable for some. Pre-university internships normally come with some allowance money, but it will definitely be much less than a university graduate’s salary. Some may see taking a pre-university gap year as forgoing one year of salary as a university graduate. On the other hand, many people choose to take gap years to work and save money for university.
Many people worry about missing out on all the university experiences their friends will have while they’re taking a gap year. Personally, I don’t think this needs to impact your decision much. If you intend to go to university, you can still go after your gap year. In fact, some people take multiple gap years and only go for their undergraduate studies in their mid-20s.
Finally, I encourage you to take a step back from the hustle of everyday life and see the bigger picture. As of 2023, life expectancy in Singapore is 84 years. When you finish A-Levels, most of you will be about 19 years old, at 23% of your life expectancy. You have about 3380 weeks left. How do you wish to spend each one? What do you think makes a good life? What do you not want to regret? What do you hope to do and learn and experience before time runs out?
Be brave in choosing the path you believe is right for you, whether it is “normal” or not.