First Year Observations From a Math Professor with Andrew Skelton

Updated: Jan 25

A gap year will set you apart in university and in your future job search. In this episode, Andrew Skelton, a first-year math professor settles some gap year hesitations and shares the differences he sees in his students who take a year off.



Andrew teaches first- year calculus for students who are in programs such as: health, biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. He’s also done research on the first year transition from highschool to university.


In fact, there’s people out there who research and focus on big transitions like this one. There’s even a faculty for it at the University of South Carolina, so there’s more people out there who have dedicated their careers to helping students through this transition because it is a hard one!


You need these skills to be successful in university


One of the most valuable skills for first year university students is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. A lot of students feel uncomfortable because they haven’t struggled in the past and have a hard time leaning into that discomfort. By leaning into those challenges you can better understand your weaknesses and strengths and make a plan to overcome those challenges.


The most important skills are underrated because you don’t typically put them on a resume or go to school for them, but you can develop them through a gap year.


Beyond university, employers are looking for these soft skills because they can teach you hard skills like coding or whatever it may be, but they can’t teach you self-awareness or persistence for example. These are all skills you can’t get from a course, but you can develop through the challenges you face throughout your life.


Of course, the hard skills and the boxes you checked off are valuable, but what you’ve learned from these experiences is even more valuable.


You don’t have to follow a cookie-cutter path to get to where you want to go. A lot of people are concerned with checking boxes off to build their resume, but what really sets resumes apart are the unique experiences people have, especially if it’s something you can speak passionately about. For example, your interviewer will most likely ask you about your volunteer trip or your side hustle over the degree you got, which everyone else also has on their resume.


Tip: add an achievements section to your resume to highlight some of your personal accomplishments.


Differences between students who take a gap year


“If I take time off of school, will I forget what I learned?”


There’s very little difference in knowledge levels when students enter a first year class. However, there’s a huge variability in how the students can apply the knowledge they already have in unfamiliar settings.


“I don’t want to be older than everyone else.”


Andrew can’t tell the difference between a first year student to an 18 or 19 year old student. In fact, many 17 years olds in the class are sometimes more mature than 19 year olds. He’s even had first year research students who have done a better job than fourth and fifth year students. At the end of the day, age doesn’t matter and it’s all about who you are and the skills you have.


Ultimately, he can’t tell the difference between a student who has taken a gap year, but he can tell the difference between a student who has had experience developing life skills versus a student who hasn’t.


But he believes doing something and working somewhere between highschool and university helps you learn some of these skills, which you need in university and will set you apart because a lot of students don’t have those skills.


If you want more guidance on taking a gap year, sign up for a free information session here


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