Norwegian students top European rankings of high school graduates who opt to take a year off before starting college or going to work. With few financial worries about pursing higher education, and long traditions for “living life” before settling down to work or study, more than 60 percent of young Norwegians take time for some fun or adventure.
Not all sail across the Atlantic, backpack their way through Asia or go Interrailing around Europe, though. Some, like Alva Eide, took her year off after graduating from what’s called videregåendeskole to pursue political interests in a job at Unge Venstre (the Liberal Party’s youth group) and work with children in a local elementary school’s activities program.
‘Pursing other interests’
“I couldn’t have made a better choice,” Eide told newspaper Aftenposten. “I was tired of not ever feeling like I was finished with school work.” She also wanted to nurture some other interests after finishing her years of obligatory schooling, and now has found out that she wants to study psychology. Having some time off from school, she feels, recharged her batteries for further studies.
A recent international survey of European students, conducted by Nordic education and research institute NIFU (Nordisk Institutt for studier av utdanning, forskning og innovasjon) showed that Norway, Denmark and Turkey were the only three countries where more than half of graduating secondary students wait a year before starting higher education.
In Norway, only 37-38 percent of those finishing the local version of high school at what’s considered the “normal” time (age 18-19) went straight to college or university. Fully 89 percent, however, were registered as college or university students within the next four years.
The trend differs markedly from countries in Asia or, for example the US and UK, where most college-bound high school students take no extended time off and tend to enroll in higher education immediately. That often has to do with family expectations, little cultural acceptance for a year off and pressure to complete university and get a paying job.
“In other countries, it’s expected that the parents finance college education and support their children while they study,” Elisabeth Hovdhauge, a researcher at NIFU, told Aftenposten. “You can’t just take a year off, then come back and say, ‘Hi, can you support me again now?'”
In Norway, university tuition is free and the state student financing agency Statens Lånekassen provides student loans to cover living expenses. Norwegian students opting to study abroad can also apply for stipends that help cover tuition fees outside of Norway.
Many young Norwegians also face a year of obligatory military service, often taken before embarking on higher education, and most feel they’ll get more out of university studies if they’ve seen a bit of the world, worked or taken a break from secondary school before beginning.
NIFU’s report also noted that young Norwegians whose parents have university educations are more likely to postpone their own higher education, “perhaps because they feel they can take some time to decide what they want to study.” Children of immigrants in Norway, however, were more likely to go straight to college and not take a year off, because of cultural and financial considerations. Their parents, it seemed, were more impatient for their offspring to study than were ethnic Norwegian parents.
Alf Merkesdal, a high school counselor in Oslo, said he advises students to take a year off if they’re unsure of what they want to be when they grow up. “It’s better to go off and travel than sit in a classroom and dream about Bali,” Merkesdal told Aftenposten. “Afterwards, it can be good to come home and think that it’s great to be back in school.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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