After a gruelling final year of high school, Lily Mays had planned the gap year of a lifetime.
She teed up a paid gig as a teacher’s assistant in a boarding school just outside of Belfast, in Northern Ireland, with grand plans to travel Europe during the holidays.
But it wasn’t to be.
Just months into the trip something called coronavirus began appearing in the news. Despite her mother’s concerns, Lily shrugged it off.
But in March, as the virus began to spread and the Australian Government advised its citizens overseas to return home, she accepted reality.
In less than a week, Lily packed her things and left. Her gap year over before it really began.
“I had plans to travel Europe in the summer … but I knew that it needed to happen, I needed to leave because I couldn’t stay there,” she said.
Although it was a struggle, Lily knows she was one of the lucky ones as many travellers were left stranded with no flights.
Back home in Ballarat with no money and no job prospects
Lily eventually did make it home, but it was far from the grand adventure she had planned.
Because she had been employed overseas, she wasn’t eligible for JobKeeper, and because she hasn’t got much job experience, she hasn’t been able to get a job.
Lily said it’s been hard to see friends maintain employment when she can do nothing but sit at home.
“A lot of them are on JobKeeper … but it’s like, I had a job too and I can’t work and I’m not eligible for anything,” she said.
“It would be nice to be able to do something.”
So she signed up for an arts degree at Monash University, which she’s only been able to do online.
“I thought uni would be on campus and I would be able to move onto [residential campuses] and have friends over and meet new people,” she said.
While some gap years ended because of coronavirus, it could also be a reason to take one
Nick Hare is the founder of LetzLive, an organisation based on the Gold Coast which organises gap years and working holidays in Australia and overseas.
Mr Hare said in March about half of his clients left their overseas jobs to return home — some even ended up going into Australian placements instead.
With inquiries up 30 per cent in recent months, Mr Hare suggested young people could even be reconsidering the university path … at least for now.
“I think there’s that fear factor in kids that are thinking ‘a couple of years down the line I’m going to get shunted out of university with a bit of paper on the wall and so are many other people, how am I going to be different?'” he said.
“So you know, the gap year and doing something constructive is now back at the forefront.”
Looking to defer university for a gap year? Here’s some advice
In NSW and the ACT at least, university applications for 2021 are up nearly 20 per cent among Year 12 students compared with this time last year.
And as the September 30 deadline approaches, Kim Paino from the Universities Admissions Centre suspects the increase could continue.
“Added to that now, of course, is the restriction on travel, meaning that for many students their plans for a gap year next year will be placed on hold and they’ll start their uni studies straight away instead.
“We could see a drop in deferments next year for that reason, which would reverse the trend upwards we’ve seen in recent years.”
Craig Robertson, the chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said TAFEs were also seeing a general upswing in enrolments.
“Online courses offered by several TAFEs this year have seen large numbers of enrolments as citizens are using the shutdown to learn new skills,” he said.
Ms Paino’s biggest piece of advice to Year 12 students who aren’t sure of their next move is to still apply now.
“As a Year 12 applicant they have access to quite a few extra things like subject adjustments that you only get when you’re applying in Year 12,” Ms Paino said.
She said if they get an offer and decide they’re not ready, they can then simply defer.