Should I take a Gap Year?
Taking a gap year is a big decision. From the financial implications to the practical realities, there are many factors you need to consider when deciding if taking a year out is the best option for you.
Take time to think
If you are unsure about your future career path, a year out can give you some time to decide what you really want to do. A change of scene, seeing new places and experiencing new cultures can give you time to reflect, learn new things about yourself and decide what you want your future to look like.
Remember that taking time away will also mean that you are a year behind your school and college friends and that you’ll be entering the job market later.
Learn new skills
A gap year should be more than just a long holiday. It is a great opportunity to fill any skill gaps you may have. If you can’t speak a foreign language, spending time working abroad will force you to learn. Today many businesses trade internationally and your language skills may be appealing to a potential new employer.
You will also learn many transferable skills. From the organisational skills needed to book and arrange your trip, the budgetary skills required to manage your money, or using your initiative to solve any problems which may arise. These are all important skills that employers are looking for.
Bear in mind that many students study and expand their skill set at the same time. Employers might be impressed that you learnt a new skill or took extra classes while studying. It shows you are committed and serious about your career.
Gain work experience
If you are planning a gap year then you need to make it count in order need not to leave a big gap in your CV. Many people use their gap year to volunteer or work on various projects around the world. This can provide invaluable work experience.
Taking a gap year can be expensive so you may have to work to fund your trip. Working in a shop in Italy you will show you have international experience and can demonstrate your communication skills by being able to work with people from different cultures. A gap year can make your CV stand out from the many that employers receive. Try and find employment which is relevant to your course.
You don’t have to travel half way around the world to gain work experience. You can stay at home and get involved in activities such as volunteering, conservation work, summer schools or internships. Many travel companies offer volunteering opportunities for shorter periods of time which may allow you to combine travel with your university studies and holidays, without delaying your studies for twelve months.
The financial cost
Travelling is expensive and funding a gap year is not cheap. Be realistic about how long you can afford to travel for and whether you can afford it at all. Starting University is also expensive and starting after the expense of a gap year is something to consider. Make sure it works financially for you and that you know how you are going to support yourself before you leave and when you return.
Make new friends
Leaving home to start a gap year can be a scary but liberating prospect. You will quickly have to learn how to be independent when you find yourself in a different country away from your usual support networks. A gap year will force you to make new friends, talk to new people and increase your confidence. Having friends all around the world will be something to treasure as you go through life’s milestones.
You will also make new friends when you start University. Living in Halls of Residence and starting a new course will also make you make you adapt to your new environment without having to travel thousands of miles.
One of the major disadvantages of taking a gap year is that you might lose your momentum. Coming back to your studies after a year off can be difficult. If you do take a gap year, it is important to make sure you plan activities that will keep you engaged and looking forward to starting your course.
Deferring your place at University
If applying through UCAS, you can indicate that you wish to defer your place for a year. If you are applying while in your final year of school or college, you will still be able to receive help with your application from your teachers. If you wait until you are already on your gap year to apply, you may not have the support and help around you that you may need. You won’t be able to attend open days or interviews and you will also be facing a large amount of uncertainty whilst you are trying to enjoy your time away.
If you have already accepted offers, it will be up to your chosen university to decide if they will allow you to defer your place to take a gap year. It will help if you can show that your plans for the year will help your studies and make you a better student. Doing something related to your subject area will help prove you are still invested and tell them how you intend to keep up to date with your subject knowledge.
Should I take a year out after university?
After all the hard work that has gone into completing your studies, a gap year might seem like a very tempting option. It may give you time to consider your options and to plan what you would like to do next. If you do decide to take a year away, make sure you continue to gain the skills and experience potential employers are looking for.
You may be leaving University with debt, so it is important to weigh up the financial implications of taking a year out. Gaining employment and regular income might be the most sensible option. You don’t have to take a twelve month break, you could make it a shorter break or stay closer to home.
Make a decision that’s right for you
Don’t be pressured into taking a gap year because your friends are. If going straight to University is best for you, then that’s what is best for you. There will be other opportunities for you to travel, volunteer or gain work experience, the world isn’t going anywhere. Working and saving hard over a summer holiday may give you the financial head start you need to start university. Realistically, you may only be able to travel or be away for a few months anyway. Only you can make the decision about whether a gap year is right for you, make as informed a decision as you can.