The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.
A gap year doesn’t have to be a year spent doing nothing. In fact, a structured gap year can be instrumental for your personal development and focusing your future plans.
With a little planning and motivation, you can use your gap year to gain work experience, save money, travel, volunteer, or all of the above. Whichever road you take, a gap year is the ideal time to think about your personal and long-term goals.
You’re bound to hear a host of opinions on why taking a gap year is a good or bad idea, which can make such a big decision more difficult.
To help you decide whether or not delaying your formal schooling is a good decision for you, we’ve put together some of the advantages and disadvantages of taking a gap year.
Pros of taking a gap year after high school
After years of schooling, you’re probably excited to take a break from studying. But taking a gap year means you get to change up your routines and even location, and turn that downtime you might crave into an adventure with purpose.
1) You get to take jobs for a trial run
Getting out into the field to gain practical experience is the best way to find out what works for you. Gap year volunteer programs or internships offer you the chance to experience what certain careers look like in a real-life context.
Spending a few weeks on an island in Seychelles while you help carry out research for marine conservation, for example, makes for a great change of pace from studying, and is a lot more informative than any careers fair.
You’ll get hands-on experience and be mentored by professionals in the field, so you can use this opportunity to ask them what it’s really like in their chosen profession.
Make sure you choose a program with a cause that interests you. That way you’ll find out whether you can turn your passion into a viable career.
2) A gap year is good for your resume
All the activities you enjoy on a GVI program during your gap year are character- and career building. That means they’ll look impressive on your resume.
Volunteer activities, additional languages, practical work experience and even international travel – will all hold weight when the time comes to submit a college or job application.
Travelling or volunteering overseas shows you have practical competencies, as well as the initiative to break away from traditional schooling.
Plus, learning about different cultures and countries builds empathy, tolerance and independence. These are all valuable qualities no matter which field you find yourself in.
3) You’ll have a chance to think about what you really want to study
It’s hard to choose exactly what you want to do straight out of high school. In fact, up to 36% of college graduates wish they had taken a different major, according to a survey conducted by Gallup and Strada Education Network.
During a gap year, you can explore personal interests, discover new passions and give yourself space and time to think about what you want to get out of life.
An extra year could be just what you need to make sure you’re going into a degree that’ll suit you and your future plans best.
4) You can work and save for college
A gap year isn’t all about play – you can fit some work in there too. Working for part of the year will give you a chance to take responsibility for your finances and save up for college.
This will help ease the financial burden of student loans and it’s also a great time to start learning about budgeting and saving. You can also set money aside for travel, for an extra rewarding year.
5) A gap year will prepare you for college
Going to college is a big step, especially if you’re moving away from home for the first time, or going to a college where you don’t know anyone. A gap year can equip you with skills to help you cope with these changes.
Soft skills such as independence and self-knowledge are only acquired through experience. A gap year program gives you the chance to slowly develop these traits and build your confidence. You could find yourself managing different types of social situations, meeting new people, learning to overcome language barriers, and having to find your way around unfamiliar places.
6) You can make the most of your freedom
Once you graduate and kick off your career, you may never get the chance to take a whole year off again.
The 2015 National Alumni Survey revealed that 92% of students who took gap years did so in order to grow personally and embrace new experiences, and these are considered great reasons to delay college by a year.
7) You can satisfy your wanderlust
The chance to travel will satisfy any nagging wanderlust you may be feeling. At the end of your gap year, you’ll be able to concentrate on your studies, instead of dreaming about travelling the world.
Gap year volunteer programs are an ideal way to experience travel and adventure in a safe and structured environment. You can choose from gap year programs in Latin America, Australasia, Asia, Africa, or Europe.
Cons of taking a gap year
1) People might not understand your decision
You might find that not everyone is supportive of you taking a gap year. Your parents might worry that it means you’ll never go to college. Your teachers may be concerned that you’ll lose the momentum of studying and find it hard to start again. Friends could feel that they’ll lose touch with you.
If you do face some opposition, remember the benefits of taking a gap year, and weigh the pros against the cons.
You can also cite some gap year statistics to convince your loved ones why this is the best choice for you. According to the Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), 90% of students who delayed college for a year returned to their studies at the end of it.
The American Gap Year Association found that 98% of students believed their gap year helped them grow as a person. And 73% said a gap year helped them prepare better for college.
2) Without goals, you can lose track of where you’re headed
It’s important to approach your gap year thoughtfully and constructively. It’s fine not knowing what you want to do next, but that doesn’t mean you should sit around and do nothing for a year.
Use not knowing as motivation to try new things, talk to new people, and consider new ideas.
Lay out some goals that you’d like to achieve by the end of the year. These could include saving a certain amount of money, ticking off a trip you’ve always dreamed of taking, or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about. Make sure you write down your goals, so you can check in on your progress throughout the year.
With goals in place, you’ll stay focused, develop your self-awareness and eventually build a better idea of where you want to be in the future.
3) The cost of travel
If you do decide to travel or volunteer while on your gap year, the cost can be an important factor to consider.
This isn’t a cheap option, so you’ll need to plan carefully. You can work out a strategy for working part of the year and travelling for the rest.
4) It can feel like your friends are moving on without you
When you’re the only one in your friendship group taking a gap year, it’s easy to feel left out.
As everyone else may be moving out of home and going to college, you might feel like you’re stuck. You’ll be one year behind everyone else, graduating later and starting full-time work later.
However, it’s important to remember that just because you’re starting college one year later than everyone else, it doesn’t mean you aren’t also learning and experiencing new things.
During your gap year, you’re bound to make friends and pick up important life lessons. And the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) factor works both ways – your friends in college will probably be dreaming about your freedom and travel opportunities.
5) Potential employers might view your gap year as a vacation
As gap years become more common, more employers are recognising their benefit, especially when there’s international service or volunteer work involved.
However, you need to be able to pinpoint the benefits of your gap year and communicate those effectively on your resume, otherwise it could look like you just went on vacation for a year.
This is where defining your goals for the year comes in handy. It’ll help you identify your key achievements from your gap year.
Get more tips on how to make your gap year achievements clear in this article: How to describe volunteer experience in a CV or job interview
Structured gap year programs can help you reach your goals. GVI has a range of internships, expeditions and volunteering opportunities that’ll ensure you make the most of your gap year.