Is 18 Too Young to Go to University?
A Carleton student shares how a gap year made him feel more prepared for university.
Taran Allan-McKay thought he was ready to go to university when he got his acceptance letter from the University of Toronto Scarborough in 2019. However, a change of heart led him to postpone his post-secondary plans by a year; a decision that led him into what he calls “a blissful period” in his life.
Previous election raises question about the young age of first-year students
In Ontario’s recent election, the Ontario Liberal Party promised an optional reintroduction of Grade 13 for all current Ontario high school students. The Liberals proposed this extra year to help students catch up on opportunities they missed during the COVID-19 pandemic and take new credits in finances, taxes, mental health, and more.
Despite the party’s loss this election, the proposition of an additional year in secondary school raises a larger question: is 18 too young to go to university?
Allan-McKay, now entering his third year at Carleton University, said it depends on the student. “I don’t think a gap year is for everyone,” he said.
Are gap years beneficial or detrimental?
According to a Statistics Canada report published in May 2022, “Students who take a gap year may face higher opportunity costs since they often substitute one year of lower-paying, pre-PSE [post-secondary education] work for one year of higher-paying post-PSE work.”
The report goes on to state that students “may acquire more focus and maturity during their time away from studies,” which could help benefit them in the labour market long-term.
How a gap year helped a Carleton student
Allan-McKay said he doesn’t think gap years should ever be made obligatory because this extra time could hold back a student who’s already prepared to go directly into post-secondary studies. However, he was glad he took a year off instead of following through with his acceptance of the offer he received from UofT. He said his friends and family had been throwing around the idea of taking some time off when he was making his decision. Some of Allan-McKay’s friends had taken time off and enjoyed it, while others didn’t and regretted their choice.
Allan-McKay said he thought the extra year gave him some more space to grow. “Because I had that extra space, I got to really think about what I wanted to do,” he added. “I’m just pretty glad I ended up […] in the program I’m in now.”
Allan-McKay said in his first year he shared a washroom with another student in residence who hadn’t taken a gap year, which gave him perspective into how much he grew during his gap year. “I was comparing my life to this guy who was fresh out of high school,” he said. “There were huge, huge differences between us, and it was only one year of our lives.”
Breaking the stigma
Dr. Anne Bowker, associate dean of Carleton’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and associate professor in Carleton’s Department of Psychology, said there’s a stigma that exists around gap years. “Parents are often reluctant to let their kid take a year off because they’re afraid that they’re never going to go on to university,” Bowker said.
She said she sees variations in the maturity of her first-year students and their readiness to pursue post-secondary studies. Her students’ reasoning also varies, Bowker said, because some come to university eager and willing to learn, while others only end up there because their parents want them to be in school.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking time off,” she said. “Students who are not comfortable at university, who don’t really want to be here, are generally not successful.”
So, while a gap year isn’t mandatory for students, you’re able to make this choice based on how you feel. Don’t feel pressured to attend post-secondary school if you aren’t ready. You can spend your gap year working to save up for school, travelling the world, or learning new skills. It was the best choice for Allan-McKay — is it the best choice for you?
Explore Carleton University