For students inured to the grind of academia, taking time off from their studies seems the height of folly.
Perhaps they believe that, once they’ve found their study rhythm, it doesn’t make sense to lose it. Or maybe they worry that other, more dedicated students will pull ahead of them in academic achievement.
Is there any merit to those beliefs?
It’s hard to say what percentage of student success has been derailed by sidestepping into a journey of discovery – seldom are there any reports of people saying they wished they had never gapped, but one thing is for sure: taking a gap year offers substantial benefits.
Should you take a gap year?
That is a very personal decision that nobody but you can make. And, like every other decision, you should have as much information as possible before you settle on a course of action.
In that spirit, your Superprof lays out some talking points.
Common Myths About Gap Years
In this article’s introduction, we mentioned two common myths about gap years; let’s dispel them before we debunk others.
I don’t want to lose my rhythm.
In most parts of the world, kids attend school from age five on. Those students are constantly exhorted by the adults in their lives that attaining education is the way to…
Depending on the culture, education is the way to financial stability, becoming a valuable (useful) citizen and an all-around upstanding person.
Students, doubly burdened from the earliest age by their parent’s hopes and dreams and by society’s expectations may have come to believe that shrugging off that yoke for something as selfish as personal time is the worst kind of infamy.
Or could this be a matter of unwillingness to step out of one’s comfort zone?
If I don’t keep my nose to the grindstone…
Academic competition is a very real problem in universities worldwide. Students compete for grades, for enrichment activities, for internships and apprenticeships, and for employment after graduation.
Seemingly dropping out of that race could have serious implications: missed opportunities lost wages and social stigma among them.
That ties in with another oft-perpetuated myth: you will torpedo your career.
In fact, quite the opposite is true; trends indicate that employers prefer to hire people who have a bit of life experience under their belt; the type of experience you could never gain in the dusty halls of academia.
You’ll be perceived as lazy.
This is another favourite of those who would seek to detract someone from going off to discover themselves and the wider world. If you want your gap year to dispel all of these myths, you have to do something productive with your time.
Let’s take a look at worthwhile gap year activities that will effectively put the kibosh on all of the naysayers.
You might also put all of this into context with our What Is a Gap Year expose…
What Can You Do with Your Gap Year?
Now that you’ve found reasons to take a sabbatical – or, at least, dispelled the myths against doing so, you’ve got to figure out what you can do with that bounty of time you've allotted yourself.
If wide-open spaces and physical challenges appeal, you might engage in some adventure travel: backpacking into the wilderness or trekking across rough terrain.
Conversely, if the water is where you feel most at home, you might consider outdoor outfits where you spend your time on a boat, sailing the oceans blue and learning along the way.
Whether on land or at sea, learning life skills should be the goal of your gap year; another is to be of service. That is why volunteering is such a popular gap year choice.
You may volunteer abroad or at home – there are plenty of volunteer projects you could lend your hand to on our shores.
If you have a passion for reading, you might share it through adult and child literacy programmes in your area (or anywhere in the world). If you are studying medicine, you might volunteer in a hospital or clinic, or haul yourself anywhere in the world that Doctors Without Borders is active.
If you would rather (or need to) earn during your break from studies, you might find work abroad or at home; perhaps in conservation initiatives or teaching English in developing countries.
Both wildlife conservation and environmental conservation are hot topics these days; dedicating a semester of your life to these causes will certainly raise your level of esteem in the eyes of future employers.
If the idea of working doesn’t appeal but volunteering leaves you worried about funding, you might consider homestays.
Homestays provide food and shelter while still exposing you to new experiences. Maybe you’d like to learn organic farming or become an au pair.
Through homestays, you can do anything from construction and remodelling to helping out with housework, all without worrying about where you will sleep or what you will eat.
These are just a handful of gap year ideas; there are many others…
Are There any Downsides to Taking a Gap Year?
As enticing as gap year travel sounds, there are downsides – not to volunteer work or working abroad in themselves but in the other factors of your life.
For one, you might meet with resistance from family – remember the myth about losing traction and letting the best jobs go to your academic peers while you’re off somewhere, frolicking.
Another decided ‘con’ of gapping, especially concerning volunteer programs, is that you won’t earn any money, and volunteering abroad actually puts you in the deficit column because you will have to pay your own way there and back.
If you opt for a gap year program, you will have to lay out a substantial amount of cash. While you will generally be safer gapping through a program, you have to consider whether spending all that money is worth it… especially if your family will have to pony up the cash.
Another vital point to consider is that, during the time you will be away, you will have little to no opportunity to apply to university or, if already a university student, apply to graduate programs.
Ditto for job searching.
Not many employers mind prospective job candidates with a gap year on their CV but applying for jobs while still abroad is a bit of an inconvenience for them. They may, in fact, tell you to contact them once you’re back ‘in the real world’.
Does all of this mean that you shouldn’t think of taking a gap year?
Not at all! However, you should carefully consider your options before actively planning your gap year.
Tips for Planning Your Gap Year
The whole idea of shrugging off the shackles of daily life sounds so carefree, it almost seems a crime to insist you must plan for your adventure…
Said planning has less to do with writing to-do lists and meticulousness than maximising your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest time in yourself.
Know What You Want to Do
Do you want to work overseas or would you rather take an internship closer to home?
The last thing you want is for your gap year to be less than fulfilling. Gap years are ‘wildest dreams’ scenarios that you actually get to bring to life so don’t settle for interning if you really want to travel.
There are ways to travel without it mortgaging your future…
Whether you’re interested in marine conservation (a very popular gap year activity) or cultural exchange, outline what you want out of this experience… and find ways to get it.
Consider All of Your Options
If, due to circumstances beyond your control, an international experience is out of the question, consider similar experiences at home.
Plenty of gap year programs bring people to our country for their projects abroad; surely you too could find something worthwhile to do here?
Should the money question arise, you would always take a working holiday in the industry you’re planning your career in.
And, if you were looking for a more varied experience, homestays just might be the best way to diversify your adventure.
What Will You Do for Money?
If a homestay is not for you and your future industry offers no internships, you may find that funding your gap year poses a challenge in itself.
One way around that obstacle is to find jobs abroad or other abroad programs that pay their participants – yes, such positions do exist!
You could also take on a part-time job while you study to raise the money for your gap year.
Do Not Disregard Safety
Whether you take your gap year abroad or take on service projects at home, you must never dismiss safety concerns.
Investigate the region you plan do be in: are there any known safety issues? What is the crime rate like? Are visitors generally safe? Are they welcome?
Obviously, visiting war zones or areas with heavy social unrest should not be done unless you are with a large, well-established group like Red Cross but, if you’re travelling solo, it would be best to avoid danger.
Remember: a gap year is supposed to be the experience of a lifetime, not the end of your lifetime...
Now discover our complete guide to taking a gap year…