Ok, so let’s clear a few things up.
A gap year isn’t something you do because you’re lazy and don’t want to work. A gap year is something very, very different if it’s organised and done for the right reasons.
Of course, we’ve all heard the stories of those who have toddled off into the big wide world without a clue or any inhibitions and got wasted on paradise beaches for a year. But that’s not always what happens - and certainly not supposed to be what happens.
Let’s bust some myths.
A gap “year” doesn’t necessarily mean a full year. It can mean anything from a few months onwards, and has been (rather formally) defined as: “a deliberate period of time, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one's practical, professional, and personal awareness.”
Awareness of what, you might ask?
Well, who you are for a start. Where your strengths lie. How you cope in challenging situations. How you fare when you’re away from family and friends, or “out of the nest”. How you manage money independently. How you navigate change. How you interact with people from different cultures. There are lots of lessons to learn about YOURSELF!
A gap year provides the time to grow in maturity, build confidence and develop self-sufficiency. You may also wish to learn or perfect your fluency in a foreign language. What an opportunity!
Let’s look at some of the pros for going on a gap year:
- It’s an opportunity to have a break from studying and return refreshed. You can volunteer, get valuable work experience, and travel the world.
- You can earn and save money towards your higher education costs or future plans - many gap years incorporate full or part-time jobs around the world.
- It’s a chance to experience life independently and develop those skills - all those things your parents do to look after you (cooking, washing, cleaning, etc) become your own responsibility!
- You will develop maturity if you don’t yet feel ready for higher education or work life. For some careers, it can be an advantage to be slightly older and have some life experience.
- You could relate the experience and activities to the subject area you plan to study.
- You will have the opportunity to experience and understand new cultures, and interact with people from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and lifestyles.
- A productive gap year can be valuable on your CV.
- You’ll have a lot of fun!
Gap years, of course, aren’t for everyone. Let’s look at the cons to embarking on one:
- A year out can become a distraction from your longer term plans, and many stay travelling far longer than expected.
- Not everyone has the personality to make the best of such an adventure - partying is great, but life can’t be one big party or you’ll never achieve what you need to achieve (sorry to sound like your mum!).
- An unstructured year out may not add much value to your future – careful thought and planning is essential.
- If you don’t get organised, you may end up spending your gap year just ‘thinking about it’ - a trip like this takes lots of planning, thought, energy and a certain amount of realism.
- It can be expensive and you could find yourself in a worse financial position at the end if you get carried away with the wrong crowd, or outstay your welcome.
- It can be harder to return to study or work after a year-long break because you may fall out of the study mindset, or get used to earning money instead.
So, what might you do next?
If you want to organise a gap year for yourself, research the costs and really think about where you would like to go. Make sure you get advice on safety, any additional checks, and any insurance cover you may need to consider for a trip such as this - travelling is a wonderful thing, but it can also be fraught with hurdles, so you must be prepared if, for example, you lose your bank card, or fall sick, or find yourself in a dangerous situation.
You may find useful information on social media, online forums, and websites. Look at the reviews, articles, and advice from people who have embarked on gap years - you may even be able to connect with them on the likes of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and get valuable advice.
Don’t forget that working, volunteering and gaining work experience along the way will add great value to your study, your CV or career. Wouldn’t it be great to return home with great stories to tell, wonderful new friends to speak of, a wicked set of ‘on-the-road’ pics on Instagram, and some really valuable additions to your CV?
And don’t forget - it may be possible to defer your acceptance of a place on a higher education course for a year, which is a wonderful burden off your back. Wouldn’t you rather have something positive and productive in the diary to return to after a year of globe-trotting?
Whatever you decide, best of luck - and if you have any doubts, discuss your ideas further with parents/carers, teachers, friends who might have done it (or who might do it with you) or a careers adviser.