Deciding to Take a Gap Year

By Hannah Ord

We crave structure in our lives … and so for better or for worse, we like to follow certain routines, patterns, habits. In life, this love of structure leads many of us to walk the “traditional road”: school, college/university, job, family, retirement. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this road, of course––but the world is too vast, too intricate, too diverse for it to be the only one.

No, the world is full of paths that split and stray and interweave, and in spite of what people may say there is no universal “right one” to take. For many, the first fork where you can leave the “traditional road” comes at the end of high school. Your final year at high school signals the end of years of familiar faces, buildings, routines. It is an exciting time but also a nerve-wracking one…  full of possibilities and the dreaded unknown. Many choose to pursue higher education and go to college or university. Others choose to go straight into a job and join the world of work. There is another option: a gap year.

To many, the phrase “gap year” conjures up the stereotyped image of British “gap yah” teenagers backpacking through Southeast Asia in baggy patterned trousers hoping to “find themselves.” Some people use this stereotype to dismiss a gap year as a “waste of time and money.” This could not be more wrong! There is no one type of person who takes a gap year and certainly no one type of gap year to take (although the one mentioned above doesn’t sound half bad!). Every former or current gap year student I know has taken a gap year for different reasons and has spent their gap year doing different things. Indeed, the only thing that connects every single student is that they cite their gap year as one of their best life decisions.

So if there is no set type of person who should take a gap year– how do you know if you would benefit from one?

Well, it is not a quick or easy decision to make. When you take a gap year you are taking a year away from education––that is, a full year in which you have complete freedom over how you choose to spend your time. It may be cliché to say, but like most things in life, the more you put into your year the more you will get out of it. Although often trivialized and mocked as a “hippie experience”,  when you are on a gap year you have to be prepared to put in the hard work and organise and manage your time, whether that’s by booking flights and accommodation or gaining a job to earn money.

For many, a year out is the first time when you have true independence––and although that can seem daunting, it is an incredible opportunity where you will grow and develop as a person. You have a unique chance to try things away from the pressures and expectations that lie on the “traditional road.”

So how could you spend your gap year?

If you are unsure about your next step or future degree or career, you can use a gap year to explore different areas or develop new skills through work experience, temporary jobs, volunteering, part-time courses…

If you do know what career you would like to pursue after college/university, you can use a gap year to build up a network and gain valuable experience within a field of work through apprenticeships, internships, employment––all of which can strengthen your CV and give you an edge over other applicants who leave college/university with no practical experience.

If you feel like you are unready or too young or simply unsure about your next step, you can use a gap year to gain independence (either financially by saving money through a job, or physically by moving away/travelling), to stretch yourself by setting goals and trying unfamiliar experiences, and most importantly to take time to self-reflect and discover what you truly want to do in life.

If you wish to give back to others, you can use a gap year to fundraise for a cause you care about, connect with inspiring people working to make change in a field you’re interested in, or volunteer in your local community or internationally.

If you want to see the world, you can use a gap year to travel to different places, deepen your understanding, awareness, and appreciation for other cultures, and meet people from diverse communities and backgrounds––you could even learn a language or improve your ability in one you already know. (There are so many gap year packages and travel programmes out there that travelling on a gap year can often be relatively cheap. Always a bonus!)

The list of things a person can do on a gap year goes on and on. There are so many reasons to take a gap year and even more ways to spend one. Personally, I would recommend a gap year to every student who wants to discover a new path. Even though I have taken my gap year during the pandemic, it has still been an incredible experience through which I have been fortunate enough to work alongside amazing people, explore future careers, gain new skills and learn far more about myself and the world around me!

At Gapyearly, we want to help you with any questions you have about gap years so that you can confidently make whatever decision you believe will be best for you. If you have a question, contact our team or request to speak with a mentor, and we’ll get back to you as quickly as we can!

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.””
— Robert Frost