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I will just project my mind here and see where it goes. A lot of this will seem childish/immature/ Due to various problems from a multitude of directions in my life; some serious, some idiotic (mid-life crisis at 18?! What the hell was I thinking); I decided to defer my enrollment to Imperial College London last year. I will now be joining the Theoretical Physics course this October. For some reason I felt I did not have enough life experience to go to university but I ended up getting a job in consultancy and have plans to travel for a while before going to uni in five months.

On paper it seems there is not much wrong but I am telling you it is not so. The pain of not learning anything new is a lesser one than others but still one I feel keenly. The knowledge of being behind on the treadmill of life compared to my friends is also worrisome. When I read about my lifelong idols (Feynman, Erdos, Einstein etc.), people I respect greatly, I feel for some reason I can never think on the same plane as them anymore due to missing out on a full year of education. I know how silly that sounds, but the feeling is there nontheless.

Either way, feelings aside, how will this year gap affect me career-wise? If there was an alternate-reality, naïve version of me who went to university straight away, what advantages would they have over me? What will professors think when when/if I apply for a PhD? What percentage of academics have also had a similar break, roughly?

Basically I just want to count my losses and ensure I extract as much juice out of the next 5 years as possible, so I look upon this period as just part of my life rather than an ugly blotch. Thanks for reading.

closed as off-topic by Enthusiastic Engineer, scaaahu, Fomite, David Richerby, Stephan Kolassa Apr 24 '15 at 8:14

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There are countries, like mine, where several years of military service right after high school is mandatory.

There are many people who have to work for awhile before they can financially allow themselves to begin studying.

There are more people than you might think, that simply did not even made up their mind about which subject should they learn at 18.

A year is nothing.

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I think taking some time "off" before entering university could be a good thing, rather than a bad thing.

It means you enter university not just because it's the next step on this path you're following (as was presumably the case through school), but because you made a conscious decision to go there. You're slightly more mature, you've probably learnt quite a bit from your job (and you will from your travels)... really not a bad decision at all.

Personally, having taught (TA'd, mostly) many early-year classes, I think many students have no clue why they're there. If you were not ready for university, whatever your reasons and the judgement you might put on them now, better you stayed away.

Are you worried that your ability to learn has suffered from being away from school? I took a six-month break after my third year, then worked for two years before my masters, travelled for a year between my masters and PhD, hardly felt that at all. You might lose some of the automatic behaviours of a student, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Compared to that other version of you who went straight to university, my guess is you're better off.

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A year more or less makes zero difference for anything that's more than a year removed from the reason to take the break.

You worry unnecessarily about the issue -- plain and simple as that.

(Now, on the question to comparing yourself with Feynman, Erdos, and Einstein: If you want to stay sane, you need to at one point come to the realization that these can be idols, but not a status you can aspire to ever achieve. They lived in different spheres, and the number of people at this level is minuscule. I think a lot of us who consider themselves reasonably successful in academic life had, at one point or another, a small crisis when we realized that our contributions will not amount to much 100 years from now -- and eventually came to the realization that that (i) doesn't mean that we can't have a satisfying life that includes other things we're proud of -- such as raising children, or just inspiring students, and (ii) that most of science is actually many relatively small steps, of which we can contribute many.)

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    I just wanted to stress that point: "If you want to stay sane, you need to at one point come to the realization that these can be idols, but not a status you can aspire to ever achieve". This is really important and I have seen far too many enter various state of depression over this issue. – BlaB May 7 '18 at 15:36
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If I regarded life as a "treadmill" and if I expected to "think on the same plane as" Feynman, Erdös, and Einstein, I'd certainly get depressed, and the same goes for almost everyone in academia. You can have a perfectly good, rewarding, non-treadmill career on a lower plane than those superstars.

Furthermore, I would expect that one year's delay in entering the university will ultimately have practically no effect on your career. Certainly, when I'm involved in hiring new faculty, I don't ask at what age they entered the university or graduated or got their doctorate.

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