Planning your summer pathway to university, a gap year, or your first job

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

So, you’ve graduated from high school.

The immediate question is: How are you spending your summer?

The answer depends on what you want to do with yourself next year.

If you don’t already have a plan, there are three strong contenders:

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  • Take a gap year
  • Start a job or apprenticeship
  • Go to university (or TAFE)

Depending on your decision, your summer could look drastically different from your peers who may have chosen a different option.

But, regardless of what pathway you choose everyone who’s just finished high school should begin the first weeks of their summer break by doing some research.

Explore all your options

If you’re still celebrating (or commiserating) your ATAR results, now may not be the time to get serious about the research that will pave the way for your immediate future, but, it’s something worth thinking about soon.

Once you’ve finished that initial burst of spending time with friends, going camping, or just recuperating after a very tough year, it’s time to pull out your laptop and start assessing your next move.

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In a nutshell, the three key options available offer very different outcomes.

University means spending the next few years studying further with the hopes of landing in your dream career, taking a gap year means taking more time to explore your options and possibly see the world (or at least Australia), taking up a job or trade apprenticeship means getting real-world job experience and transferable skills that can lead you somewhere special.

When researching your options, take the time to weigh up the potential pros and cons and the reality of turning your plans into a reality.

If study is the next step, be realistic about what courses you are likely to get into. If you didn’t get the end-of-year result you’d hoped for, exploring alternative pathways, such as a bridging course, could be a smart choice. When it comes to taking time away from life as you know it, crunch your budget to figure out what places can you afford to travel to. Will it be overseas? How long will you be willing to go for? Or, if you’re thinking about starting a job or apprenticeship, look at what is available in your local area, or decide whether you may need to move to have more opportunities. if you already have clear career goals, ask yourself if these steps align with those goals and will add important experience to your pathway.

A best practice approach might be to write down all of the options currently available to you. You can then begin to eliminate them, one by one, as you decide what’s best and practical for you.

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But first – enjoy the festive season with friends and family

After high school, a lot of things change when it comes to spending time with friends and family.

If you’re leaving home for uni, or if you’re travelling abroad, this may be the last time you spend Christmas living at home. Make sure you enjoy this time while you can.

Preparing for university

If you’ve chosen university, your summer will no doubt be filled with some preliminary study. Of course, it can’t all be textbooks and staring at a screen – bet setting some summer time aside to focus is a helpful way to help you transition to the life of a tertiary education student easily.

To start, familiarise yourself with the classes you’ll be taking in semester one, make sure you’ve got access to the necessary reading material and allocate an amount of time each day to get started.

The reading required for university is a major step up from what you’ve been learning at secondary school and getting yourself acquainted with the workload as early as possible is a great way to settle into student life as smoothly as possible.

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Know that it’s ok if you’re not sure yet what job or career you specifically want yet, it’s very normal for people to switch classes – or even degrees – after you start your uni studies.

Research clubs and social groups

A huge part of university life is the social life and many people meet lifelong friends at university clubs or at social gatherings.

Maybe you’d like to join a hobby-focused or creative club, or perhaps you might want to join a sporting group? Making friends at university is very different to high school – and with a much larger (and more diverse) selection of people to mix with, finding ways to mix and mingle can be a good first step to make the most of the social opportunities uni has to offer.

Getting ready for a gap year

Spending time away from home and family means being financially independent – and that means saving as much money as possible.

If you’re still living at home but planning to hit the road soon, finding jobs to fill your time and your bank balance is an important priority.

Travel is expensive, and there are a lot of things you might have even accounted for. If you’re going road tripping across the outback for example, you will really need to stock up on money for fuel, accommodation, food and sunscreen.

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A lot of sunscreen!

Working a simple cash register job at a cafe or at a supermarket is an excellent way to save up and ensure you have extra money for the unexpected things you may not have accounted for.

If you’re looking to save up faster and you have a driver’s license, delivering food could be a great way to save up a few extra dollars – but make sure you understand what you’re getting paid, compared to the time and transport costs you’ll be funding to ensure the reward is worth it.

Study the place you wish to visit

Before setting out on your grand adventure, enrich your experience while you have time by looking into the history and culture at the heart of the places you plan to visit.

While Full Moon parties in Thailand are exciting for obvious reasons, finding out some interesting tales about ancient kings who once ruled the country and how the temples were built can add an extra dimension to your experience.

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Starting a job or apprenticeship

If you’re planning on joining the workforce straight from school, it’s likely you’ve already worked, in some way, on your skills regarding your chosen trade or career pathway. Now is a good time to increase those skills.

For example, if you want to be a carpenter, using the extra time you have on the holidays could be spent building furniture in your garage, or helping out at the local men’s shed.

Or, if you’re about to launch into an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, tinkering on your own car’s engine could be the practical experience you need to feel more confident on the tools.

Planning your summer – and beyond

As summer stretches out ahead, you may be so happy simply to have ended your secondary school education that, the truth is, you don’t have the energy to think about any of this right now. And that’s okay too. Whatever you have chosen – or not chosen – remember that it doesn’t have to be a choice for life. Even if your preferred pathway feels like the culmination of a lifelong ambition, ideas can evolve – and by keeping your mind open to fresh experiences, you may find your summer could take you in a new and fulfilling direction.

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Michael R Williams has been writing for regional newspapers for the past 3 years, including delivering the Longreach Leader to its 100th year. He is passionate about the opportunity journalism offers him to interview and tell the stories of Australians with a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. He is an obsessive reader and podcast listener.