After this pandemic passes, it will be hard to say that we’ve had enough of formal lessons, of sitting in classrooms day after day while, outside, the world moves on. If nothing else, this year has been practically the opposite.

Of course, we could say that we’ve had enough of online lessons and staying at home, and that we’d like to make the world move again, like it used to.

No matter how we reflect on these pandemic times once they’re behind us, the one parallel we cannot draw is that taking time off from school last year is like taking a gap year. True, we saw a gap in our usual educational calendar but we didn’t get to do much of anything fun, did we?

Those people blessed with a perpetual positive attitude may have labelled this time an adventure and they may have been right. We’ve never experienced anything like this, after all.

Incidentally, a positive mindset is the very thing everyone needs to help them through these hard times. As is so often said, attitude is everything and one of the best ways to foster positivity is to contemplate things that are enjoyable and bring us pleasure.

That’s why, contrary to all indications that travel as we knew it is pretty much over, your Superprof wants to talk with you about something ultimately enjoyable: taking a gap year.

Because if we ever needed a break from everyday life, this year would be it.

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What a Gap Year Is – and Isn’t

After all of the sitting around we’ve done recently, you’ll be happy to know that taking a term or longer off from school does not mean you get to sit around, order pizza and stream your favourite shows all day.

Taking time off from your studies is the definition of a gap year.

You can't lay about and eat junk food on your gap year
Laying around and snacking all day is not acceptable gap year activity Photo credit: Furryscaly on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

It’s not only students who take time off. If you’re an undergraduate enrolled in a degree programme at university, you may have heard of a professor taking a sabbatical; that too is a gap year. Sabbaticals aren’t just a university professor thing, either. Plenty of school teachers and even people in the workforce take sabbaticals, too.

Of course, those professionals who step away from their high-pressure careers are usually those who are well-entrenched in their field or at their firm, who don’t need to worry about having a job to come back to.

People who work in shops and restaurants – those we’ve come to know and appreciate as essential workers are generally not afforded sabbaticals.

If a gap year isn’t simply about taking time off from studying, what is it? Let's answer that question with one of our own: have you ever heard the phrase ‘get out of your comfort zone’?

Getting away from all that is safe, comfortable and familiar is the essence of gapping. Exposing yourself to new experiences and benefiting from growth opportunities is what taking a gap year is all about.

Let’s say you live on the Orkney Islands, a landscape savage in its beauty. You likely know how to handle all manner of extraordinary situations. You could probably out-hike the average city dweller and there’s a good chance you’re fairly good in a boat. How would you fare in a major city?

Now, let’s pretend you’ve lived in Manchester all of your life. You know where you can buy food after 9:00PM, how to navigate the city and, should you fall ill, you know that the A&E is not that far away. How would you get along in a place where the shops all close at 6:00 and the nearest hospital is over an hour away?

The point of taking a gap year is to subject yourself to new experiences and learn from them. And then, when you come back to your ‘real’ life, you will tackle your studies (or your work) with renewed vigour.

For your gap year, you may choose an altruistic pursuit like volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about or one you could earn a bit of cash through, such as teaching abroad. We’ll talk more about what you can do later.

Final note: a gap year seldom lasts an entire year. For students, one school term is the norm while professionals may take up to nine months off without any serious repercussions.

Our readers ask: should I take a gap year? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.

Before getting totally burned out, take a gap year
If this is how you feel every day, it may be time to take time off from work or studies. Source: VisualHunt

Why People Take a Gap Year

I Wanna Break Free – Queen, 1984

This oldie-but-goodie song title delivers, in a nutshell, the primary reason why people take a gap year. Maybe gappers won’t state it as their official reason but it most likely is. Far be it for us to presume to know what ideas people have, though, so let’s look at some widely published reasons that people take a gap year.

  • Seeking adventure and thrills
  • Meeting new people and making new friends
  • Discovering other parts of the world or different parts of your world
  • Learning to adapt to new situations
  • Getting a better idea of who you are
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and your actions
  • Taking time to think about your future

These reasons are often cited by students about to transition into higher education or undergraduates moving into their graduate studies. They also suggest that taking a bit of time off helps them clear the mental fog from a full course of study so that they can begin anew after they’ve gone exploring.

For professionals taking a sabbatical, their reasons for doing so generally involve activities related to their profession. For instance, a medical professional might sign on with Doctors Without Borders for a 9-month stint and an archaeologist or sociologist might participate on a dig at a newly-discovered site.

Of course, there are exceptions; there might be lawyers going off on extended nature retreats – just like there might be law students who volunteer at lawyers’ offices during their time away from law school.

Do you know about the US Peace Corps programme?

It was initiated by President Kennedy in March of 1961. The Corps’ mission is to fulfil humanitarian objectives and work with native populations on various initiatives from education to water conservation. Since it’s inception, nearly a quarter-million students have ‘enlisted’ in the Peace Corps.

Were it not for the 2-year commitment required of every participant (and that they should be college-educated before enlisting), the Corps would be the ideal gap year programme.

No need to look for any US-sponsored experiences, though. There are plenty of gap year programs to choose from, all of which would make a nice entry on your UCAS application or CV.

Turtle conservation programs are perfect for future marine biologists
Spending your gap year in a turtle conservation programme is a great choice if you want to study marine biology. Photo credit: EraPhernalia Vintage . . . [''playin' hook-y''] ;o on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

What Can You Do During Your Gap Year?

We’ve already given a few clues of what you can and shouldn’t do during your gap year – remember the lounging around and watching telly warning?

The rule of thumb is: taking time off from your studies or work is only acceptable if you’re going to do something that will lead to self-improvement and greater performance once you return.

So, if you’re a fan of outdoor sports and plan on a career as a fitness trainer, you may choose to coach a youth sports team. On the other hand, if you long for rugged wilderness, a sojourn into that type of terrain is also perfectly acceptable, even though such an environment may have nothing to do with your future career plans.

Consider how retreating to the woods for months at a time would give you a chance to de-stress, think and clear your head of any self-doubt and you’ll realise that’s why doing so is an acceptable gap year activity.

The list of gap year activities is only limited by your abilities, desires and circumstances.

Some gappers take advantage of gap year programmes. These are generally run by for-profit companies that provide an all-encompassing experience for their clients, up to and including health insurance. They do come with a hefty price tag, though.

Other gap year opportunities include activities that wouldn’t necessarily be recognised as such. If your future career plans include working with children, you might take a position as an au pair or develop a reading programme at your local library if there isn’t already one in place.

If you prefer not to work with children but still want to contribute to our country's literacy goals, you could teach adult life skills classes and, if you plan to train as a veterinarian, you might consider a homestay on a farm or volunteer in a vet clinic.

Really, the possibilities are endless!

If you’re undecided about which activity to choose or even looking for other gap year ideas besides the ones we briefly touched on in this article and beyond what you can find on the Internet, talk with the people closest to you.

Those who know you best may direct you to where you’ve always wanted to be.

Now discover our complete guide to taking a gap year...

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.