Gap year in Singapore: 3 persons share their stories

by | Jun 7, 2021

Be it the fear of losing out to our peers or an interruption in academic momentum, the concept of taking a gap year in Singapore is something many tend not to consider and even a last option at times.

However, as rejections are sent out and the rush of university admissions comes to an end, this unfamiliar territory may become a reality for some.

I had the opportunity to connect with 3 different individuals who shared their own stories and answered any gap year questions I had.

Continue reading to find out how our profiles handled their university rejections and turned them into their own gap year success stories.

What happened after graduation?

A girl feeling disappointed

Isabelle:

I graduated from Singapore Polytechnic in 2020 with a diploma in Media and Communications.

After graduation, I applied for a few courses in various universities but was aiming for a spot in NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information even though I knew it was hard to get in.

 

Megan:

I graduated from Republic Polytechnic in 2020 with a diploma in Arts and Theatre Management.

I had applied to NTU’s Arts, Design and Media school and had intended to continue work at my internship company. I originally planned to continue working on a part time basis while studying.

 

Yee Sze:

I graduated from Jurong Junior College in 2018 and was studying in the science stream.

I didn’t have much interest in the courses local universities offered but I knew I wanted to do something creative so I ended up applying to study film in Lasalle.

 

How did you feel after receiving your rejection letter?

Isabelle:

There wasn’t much news for me during the period when you’re supposed to get results from the universities usually between April to May. Because of that, I started preparing myself, being more realistic and thinking about the next course of action.

I told my internship supervisors that I would be able to start work full time.

When the initial rejection came, I was sad but it was something I expected too. I also tried to appeal but I already knew I had a backup plan which was to work during my gap year.

 

Megan:

I felt very sad and lost. It was also during Covid so it was almost a double loss in a sense.

At that point in time, I was already working full time so I told myself when I get into university, I’ll just convert to working part-time.

Eventually, I didn’t get in so although I wouldn’t say it worked out, there weren’t any huge decisions I had to make either. Everything sort of fell into place even though it wasn’t the way I wanted it to.

 

Yee Sze:

I wasn’t disappointed, in fact, I kind of expected it because usually for creatives, you really need a solid portfolio to get in.

When I applied to get into film, there were other candidates that had stronger portfolios and I understood that I was falling behind in what I was able to showcase.

Deep down I knew I probably wouldn’t be in the pool of potential candidates that would get accepted but I just did my application and went for the interview.

After I received the rejection, I started to readjust my mindset and decided to go ahead with a gap year in Singapore.

Most of my fear and anxiety was not a result of taking a gap year but was about what creative opportunities would present themselves next.

Could I build up a substantial portfolio in time or could I become sufficient in creative software? I was always thinking and making plans for what I wanted to achieve in the future.

 

What did you do during your gap year in Singapore?

Isabelle:

I continued working at my internship company, a communications agency that specialises in public relations. When I started as an intern I worked mainly on supporting campaigns and events but my role changed when I started as a full-timer.

I had the chance to work with more clients and the company let me explore shorter-term campaigns where I got to learn much more than the usual public relations job scope.

I did my gap year during Covid so we couldn’t have physical events and had to think of other ways to innovate and explore digital events like Zoom in order to stand out from the rest.

There was something new launched every day so we always had to be on our toes about doing something different to catch people’s eyes.

 

Megan:

At my internship company, we do murals, exhibitions, and project management. We also conceptualize concepts and proposals as well but because of Covid, many projects got cancelled or postponed.

It was only after the rejection that the Covid situation got better and I was able to keep myself busy.

After I confirmed that I would be staying full time, I received a lot more  responsibilities.

 

Yee Sze:

I started working full time at an engineering company right after junior college so the application process and the rejection letter happened while working.

I decided to continue working and wasn’t very concerned about filling my gap year with anything else. My position there was an Operation Executive, so I did a lot of liaising and helping out with transactions.

I was also working on my portfolio on the side. Because my interest was in the film industry, I went out to take videos of friends or events and even helped to make corporate videos for the company I was working for.

It was an effort on my part to do something I could at least show in my next application. That being said, I also didn’t want to limit myself to just film so I explored photography and visual art like posters or infographics.

By opening myself to more creative opportunities than just film, I knew that if film wasn’t successful I could do something else. That’s where my visual portfolio and works would come in handy.

 

What is your biggest takeaway from taking a gap year in Singapore?

Isabelle:

Change is the only constant and that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I know people always say this but honestly, it’s true.

Growth is always uncomfortable but you have to learn to accept it, being stuck in the same place doesn’t feel that fulfilling either. I’m also thankful to have met my mentors who helped to guide and push me.

They know me well enough to know when I’m slacking or not performing up to par — they’re not afraid to let me know it too. They will also point out when I discredit myself on doing a good job. It made me realise what I was lacking in as well as what I was doing well.

 

Megan:

Everybody grows at a different pace. It’s good to feel the pressure from thinking you need to move at the same pace as others but at the same time you just need to do your best. With that, you can eventually grow and get to where you want to go.

Ultimately, everybody walks a different path. It’s okay if you don’t move at the speed you think you need to move at. At the end of the day, you need to take a step back, look at what you are doing now and think about how you can improve.

 

Yee Sze:

Taking a gap year reaffirmed the conviction that I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment.

The gap year strengthened my desire to be an independent worker, to be someone that would take charge of my own assignments and tasks. I got to know who I was as an individual in a professional field as well as what I wanted to pursue in the future.

During that gap year, I also did more of my own research and I thought about what I could do with a degree in film.

Sure, you can do different types of videos like Youtube videos or commercial videos but at the end of the day, they are all just videos.

I thought, is that really a life or career I want?

I knew that even without professional help, film is a skill anyone can get into and develop. Thus, after my gap year, I chose to apply to study Design Communications at Lasalle.

I now have 2 different skillsets and 2 different specializations. It was a step I took to broaden my career opportunities in the future.

 

Do you have any regrets about taking a gap year?

Isabelle:

Nope! Taking a gap year is just another type of learning in a sense. It definitely challenged me more than school would. But…that’s another what-if, right? *laughs*.

It’s just another set of mountains that I had to climb. I’m planning to continue my full-time job for a few years and I actually signed up for an online Harvard Business Law course that will begin in June.

Also, I’m planning to apply for a part-time undergraduate degree so I can study while I work.

 

Megan:

Not really. The gap year gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to take on if I had gotten into university. I wouldn’t have had the time or commitment to take up the responsibilities that eventually happened during that period.

Personally, I felt “sian”, having to apply for university again. Everybody around this age is going to university or completing some sort of milestone and I felt stuck.

However, taking a gap year made me look at life differently. I used to always think that after graduation I have to go to university and follow the checklist I had in mind but this gap year taught me that when things take a different turn, it’s not the end.

 

Yee Sze:

I regret comparing myself to other people, especially my peers. They had moved onto higher education but I was still stuck with an A level certificate. The consolation I gave myself was that I had one year of working experience.

I learnt from my mentor that even though having a degree is something employers look out for, it is not a determining factor. It grants you more opportunities but what they are really looking out for is your working experience and I had one year more compared to them.

Though they seemed to be moving or getting the certificate employers look for, I knew that I would get there too, just one year later.

I experienced this first hand in Lasalle when I was applying for an internship. The position I was offered wasn’t an internship but a partnership. While other interns were being managed by the management, I was the management.

Compared to peers my age, I was the partner to their boss. It was a huge advantage I managed to score because I had close to 2 years of working experience.

 

Any advice for students planning to take a gap year in Singapore?

Student writing notes

Isabelle:

Give yourself time and space to collect your thoughts. Receiving a rejection is not easy to deal with so give yourself time to be sad for a month or two then think of an action plan for the year.

Be it a part-time job that you’ve never tried before or exploring smaller internships. I was able to get up and not coop myself up at home because I still had work to do. I’ll admit, it’s much easier for poly students when it comes to internships but I think exploring different internships is a possibility for anyone.

Give yourself a deadline to grieve if not you will never get out of that cycle of self-pity. It was something I struggled and still struggle with from time to time. When I compare myself to others, I tend to think about the what ifs like “what if I was a bit smarter?”.

It’s a lot of negative self-thought. Realistically, all these what-ifs are of no use because you’ll never know what it could have been like. You didn’t go down that path, you are on this path.

 

Megan:

Don’t feel pressured if your life is stagnant for a while. Not everybody has that flow or plan for a job or internship lined up straight away.

With that said, it’s important to not let yourself stay stuck. As long as you’re still on the lookout for something that you like or something you would like to do, it’s alright. Keeping yourself busy is important but do it with the right things.

 

Yee Sze:

The first step you should take is to think of what you really want to do. One year is a substantial amount of time to specialize in something or at least improve yourself in any way you can.

The most important thing is to work out what you want to do and take the steps to move in that direction.

The sadness will eventually disappear because you’re now motivated and driven to do something for yourself and for your future. A gap year is something you can’t run away from so you might as well get something out of it.

 

Conclusion

Having had the chance to talk to Isabelle, Megan and Yee Sze as they spoke about their gap year in Singapore was truly an eye-opening experience. As a student having just gone through the gruelling university application process, I have firsthand experience of the stress and anxiety it can bring upon some students, myself included.

It was comforting knowing that they were once in my shoes. While I will not be doing a gap year, it was definitely something I considered at one point and talking to them gave me more insight into any gap year questions I had.

Though some may see a university rejection as a devastating loss, the gap year stories our 3 profiles shared were truly as informative as they were inspiring.

Be it a new mantra or a newfound drive or motivation, I hope there is something you will be able to take away from as you navigate your own path (and maybe a possible gap year in Singapore as well!)

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