At my senior high school, uni was the next step after you graduated. There was no talk of taking a gap year, of having time off or giving yourself a chance to figure things out. You had to be doing something. At my final academic award assembly, there was a slide show with the results of all the high achievers and what they were planning on doing for the next year. Every single person had accepted an offer to university.

Now, after graduating, going to uni and finishing my first year, I wish I could go back and tell myself to take a year off. To figure out what I wanted to do. To work hard and save some money or spend it all on flights seeing the world. To give myself a break from the pressure of study and constantly being assessed.

1. Recover from burn out

By the time I finished my final exam, I was done. I had spent my weeks of exams crying, cramming and stressing about my future so that by the time it was all over, I had nothing left. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed for the next couple of years. Stress, pressure, anxiety, fear of failure, procrastination and months of study can turn students into fireballs, burning through energy until they finally reach breaking point where they self-destruct. Some students might never reach the final stage of burn out. But a lot do, and a gap year gives you a break from the pressure of studying and lets you get everything together before throwing yourself back into assessments and exams.

2. Work out what you want to do

The pressure to put in preferences and pick a uni before you’ve even stepped foot in the ‘real world’ can be overwhelming. All your life you’ve been told you’re too young to make any big decisions, then all of a sudden, you’re expected to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. A gap year gives you the chance to step back from the pressure cooker that is high school and put things in perspective. It lets you think about what you like and what you want to do, without the stress of scaling of subjects or final rankings. A gap year gives you some clarity and a chance to look at things with fresh eyes.

3. You’re not going to flunk uni if you go a little later

In fact, research shows students who defer for a year after high school perform better at uni than those who enter straight from school. While there’s other factors to take into account (like socioeconomic status), it makes sense that a gap year would better equip you for uni. A gap year makes you more independent and resilient; it gives you a chance to mature and make our own decisions and face the consequences- good or bad.

4. Experience the world

School is a bubble. You wake up at the same time every morning, wear the same uniform and your day is organised by predetermined periods and bell times. When you finally leave, after thirteen years of being told what to do and where to be, you’re hit with the harsh reality of real life where every decision is on you. A gap year gives you the chance to experience it all, the independence and the freedom, and to decide what you want with it- whether it be spending time road tripping around Australia, earning some cash at your hospo job, getting a flight outta here and jumping head first into another culture, volunteering locally or looking into other study pathways. A gap year shows you there’s a big wide world out there that isn’t contained within a lecture hall or classroom.