There are several reasons why you may find yourself considering the possibility of taking a gap year. Perhaps you’re a graduate and looking for an adventure before you begin your career; you might be an A Level student and are not interested in/quite ready for the step up to university; maybe you’re neither but are simply sick to death of the daily grind.
In any case, there is no predetermined ‘gap year’ profile – anyone can take a gap year or ‘working holiday’, for any reason, at any time.
Similarly, there are no given rubrics about what constitutes a gap year. A gap year doesn’t necessarily last for a year and – contrary to popular understanding – involve strapping yourself to a great big hulking backpack for 9 months. It’s your own, unique experience, and shouldn’t be determined by any pre-existing ideologies.
However, while gap years (or ‘gap yahs’ in YouTube speak) generally make for infinitely valuable life experiences, they are only worthwhile if done wholeheartedly and – most importantly – for the right reasons. Here’s what we think you ought to consider before making that crucial decision.
Are you suited to a gap year?
Have you been travelling before? Have you spent time away from home for a period exceeding two weeks? Have you held down any summer jobs?
If so, and it (or they) went well, then the chances are you’d take to your gap year like a duck does to water. Previous experience travelling or working abroad for short periods will, inevitably, help prepare you for a gap year (although it isn’t strictly necessary).
The most important element involved is strength of character. Moving abroad for such a long time requires the ability to adapt to completely new cultures and environments, meet new people with an open mind and deal with the unexpected from time to time – all without your home comforts. Can you envisage yourself in that situation? Does it excite or worry you? You should think long and hard about this before deciding anything.
What is a gap year, exactly?
As mentioned earlier, there is nothing about a gap year that is set in stone, except perhaps that it involves leaving your home country for an extended period. But that’s just about it.
You can spend as long as you want travelling the world, various parts of the world, or just one country – maybe even one place. The latter wouldn’t be so atypical if you chose to do a working holiday or volunteer abroad.
Working holidays, also known as ‘gap year programs’, can offer a matchless combination of achievement, enjoyment, independence and community, through the work you do, the activities you do and the people you do them with. European or Canadian ski resorts are rightly popular destinations for more or less guaranteeing this sort of experience, as are commercial resorts in the USA or far-flung farms in the Australian outback.
Alternatively, you may prefer to use your time to help make a difference to deprived communities, however significant, through extended volunteer work. The hands-on experience of destitute environments will doubtless instil a much deeper awareness of current global and humanitarian issues and probably change your outlook on life. Whether teaching English in third-world schools or helping to reconstruct areas blighted by natural disaster, volunteering abroad is definitely a rewarding experience.
What are the benefits of taking a gap year?
The advantages of gap year travel are numerable. It can broaden your horizons, strengthen your personal values and tremendously enhance your employment prospects when you return home.
Employers value global knowledge and life experience beyond the UK more than most other qualities in a job applicant. Time spent abroad at such a young age is often a strong indicator of bravery, broad-mindedness and willingness to explore and take risks. That’s not to say, of course, that job applicants for the same position who haven’t taken a gap year would be unfavourable; there are many aspects to consider!
What are your other options?
You’ll probably have already considered your other options: begin the search for work – either in the field that you’ve studied for or in a completely new industry – or continue with higher education. Either of these options may seem daunting at first, but are advised if you don’t think you’re suited to the challenges a gap year can present. Perhaps you’re more of a work-focused individual, in which case a gap year quite simply may not be your cup of tea!
It is crucial that you take a gap year because you genuinely want to; not just because you think you should or because a couple of friends are doing it. If you think you’re ready for the challenge then plan your gap year carefully, think about what is right for you personally and how you can harness the eventual benefits reaped from the experience into positive, long-term traits and skills.
Think you’re suited to a gap year? Take a look at some of our best gap year ideas.
Alternatively, if a gap year isn’t what you’re looking for, check out our suggestions for other alternatives to university.