This post was migrated from my old site to a new system that doesn't quite support the same formatting. Sorry if it looks a bit weird!
I wrote this back in 2015. As I migrate it in 2021, I realise there's so much more I want to add. I'm adding it for the sake of completeness and not erasing old content, but my thinking has matured on this topic & I'll be revisiting it.
I think university and higher education is valuable — there’s no denying that. However, I think the way that we do things (in the UK at least) leaves a lot to be desired in terms of setting people up to have the life they want.
For me, university was never a real option. I never even applied. I somewhat regret that I never applied — it would’ve been nice to get accepted somewhere, even if I did turn it down eventually.
My plan was strong and backed up by my gut: freelance, work my ass off. Take the time to figure out if that’s what I really wanted to be doing — and if I decided it wasn’t, apply to university and/or do something different. I wasn’t about to go to university and spend thousands of pounds, rack up debt — on something I wasn’t certain would help me. Especially considering that I’m a designer, in an industry that cares deeply about experience and hands on work.
I knew I wanted this because I spent years of my life freelancing alongside school. I worked in the real world, with clients around the globe, on tons of different things. I succeeded and I got shat on. I made people happy and I pissed people off. I made money and I made mistakes. I made decisions that changed the course of my life and business — it was all in my hands.
As a student in highschool, chances are you’ve never done this in a way that really mattered. You’ve been surrounded by the same people for years, in a comfortable bubble. You’ve got a single perspective on all of life.
To be comfortable is the stupidest thing you could be at your age.
No risk, no reward — and the risk you’re taking age 18 with zero responsibility is well worth taking.
Take a year out, get a real job where the stuff you do really matters. School doesn’t really matter. Most of your teachers don’t really care if you do well or not, they get paid either way. Your parents don’t either, they want you to be healthy and happy — they just equate those with doing well in life, which they equate with doing well in school.
So I say to everyone: Take a gap year.
Travel, meet new people. Gain additional perspective.
You’re a mish-mash of the 5 people you spend the most time with, the 5 things you spend the most time doing. So take this opportunity to surround yourself with some new people, who are smarter, more interesting and harder working than you are. Take this opportunity to do something completely different. I was a freelance interface designer half the time, and I’d help my friend out on his farm the other half. Totally completely different.
How do you really know what you care about when for your entire life you’ve done the same thing every day, with the same people. Is there something bigger and better out there? You’ve never even given yourself the opportunity to find out.
Even if you think you know what you want, you should take a gap year. You might be completely wrong. You might fall deeper in love with what you want to do. Both are great.
If you didn’t get into the university you wanted to this year, or didn’t get the grades you needed — maybe it’s not the end of the world. Not following the safe path terrified me half the time, but it paid off. It can pay off for you too.
Take a gap year. Take 5.