A gap year doesn’t have to be a year spent doing nothing. A structured gap year can be instrumental in helping teens develop into self-aware individuals and more focused students.
With a little planning and motivation, you can use your gap year to gain work experience, save money, travel, volunteer, or do 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. It can be difficult to make such a personal decision when everyone has a different opinion.
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 13 years of schooling, you’re probably just excited to take some time off from studying. But there are far more benefits to taking a gap year than just enjoying a break from academia. Here are a few reasons why taking a gap year is a good idea.
1) You get to take jobs for a trial run
Getting out into the field for practical experience is the best way to find out what works for you. Gap year volunteer programs or internships often offer the chance to see what certain careers look like in a real-life context. You can choose to join a gap year program for anywhere between two weeks and six months.
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 in an area that interests you. That way you’ll find out whether you can turn your passion into a viable career.
The best part? You’ll be in a beautiful location. Spending a few weeks on an island in Seychelles while you help carry out research for marine conservation makes for a great change of pace from studying, and is a lot more informative than any careers fair.
2) A gap year is good for your resume
Taking a gap year between high school and college doesn’t mean your education comes to a complete halt. A gap year is an opportunity to expand your learning and enhance your skills.
All the activities you enjoy on 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 – all these things will 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 the traditional high school–college career path.
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
Up to 36% of college graduates wish they had taken a different major, according to a survey conducted by Gallup and Strada Education Network. It’s hard to choose exactly what you want straight out of high school.
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 your life.
An extra year could be just what you need to make sure you’re going into a degree that will 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 loans and it’s also a great time to start learning about budgeting and saving. You can also set aside money for travel, and balance work with travel for a rewarding year.
5) A gap year will prepare you for college
Going to college is a big step. You might move away from home for the first time, go to a college where you don’t know anyone, or start studying something entirely new. A gap year can equip you with all the skills you need to help you cope with these changes.
Soft skills such as independence and self-knowledge are only acquired through experience. A gap year gives you the chance to slowly develop these traits and build your confidence.
Through gap year programs, you’ll find yourself in new social situations. Managing uncomfortable social situations, meeting new people, coping with language barriers, and having to find your way around unfamiliar places – it’s all good practice for when you go to college or take the next step in life.
After a year of new experiences and introspection, you’ll have a much more developed sense of self, as well as improved practical life skills. Overall, you’ll be better prepared to take on college.
6) You can make the most of your freedom
As the saying goes, you won’t be young forever – so make the most of your youth. 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. These are 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 structured environment. You won’t be totally on your own. The world is your oyster. You can choose from gap year programs in Latin America, Australasia, Asia, Africa, or Europe.
Cons of taking a gap year
When you mention your intentions to take a year off before starting college, people will be sure to bombard you with plenty of reasons why taking a gap year is a bad idea.
You don’t need to take these negative opinions about gap years to heart, but there are certainly some cons you should consider before making your decision.
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 all of the benefits of a gap year and outline these to the people questioning you. Even if they don’t agree with all of your points, they won’t be able to deny that you have done your research and have thought about your decision carefully.
You can also cite some gap year statistics. According to CNBC, 90% of students who delayed college for a year returned to their studies at the end of it. That means your family’s fears of you losing interest in study are unfounded.
The American Gap Association found that 98% of students believed that 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 to know 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.
A great tip would be to lay out some goals that you would 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.
As well as financial skills, saving up for a trip abroad can teach you to think outside of the box. You might want to explore various funding or scholarship options to make your dream happen.
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 is moving out of home and going to college, you might feel like you’re stuck in place. 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 FOMO (fear of missing out) factor works both ways – your friends in college will probably be envious of 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 is 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 will help you identify your key achievements from your gap year.
Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of taking a gap year. If the pros list comes out longer than the cons, take the leap.
Structured gap year programs can help you reach your goals. GVI has a range of internships, expeditions and volunteering opportunities that will ensure you make the most of your gap year.