Should you take a gap year?

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6 min read

Thinking of taking a gap year? Here are our pros and cons plus list of suggestions for making the most of your year out.

A gap year can feel like a breath of fresh air after spending what feels like your entire life in full-time education. But do you want to do it for the right reasons? Here are some pros and cons to think about: 

Pros

  • Break from education: Taking a break from education not only feels great but can also help you find a clear headspace if you’re uncertain about which direction to head in. Use it to take your time and think things through.
  • Confidence booster: If you’re not confident enough to start university or go into a job, gap years can be extremely beneficial to build confidence and independence.
  • Work experience: Working and saving money is a step forwards toward the real world, and is a great way of teaching you the value of working hard.
  • Exam retake: If you need to retake an A level, you can not only productively work to achieve better grades, but also make the most of the extra time throughout the year to work or travel. 
  • Employers like it: Lots of employers really value people who have built up life experience and work experience during a gap year.

Cons

  • Can be expensive: If you already have a bit of money saved up, think about what you would rather put it towards, your first year of uni or a gap year? Travelling can be a lot more expensive than expected. If you do travel, ensure you make a proper budget before deciding - maybe get parents or other family members to help you with this. 
  • Wasting valuable time?: The question of if you should take a gap year depends on how you use this year. When future employers look at your CV and see that you’ve done a gap year they’ll want to know why, and how you made the most of this time to build skills and experience.  

To get you headed towards having the most productive gap year possible, here are some ideas for how to best use your time: 

Paid Work

  • Working in a full-time job can be an extremely productive use of your time, not only to build up your skills, but to give you an experience of earning your own money, improving your independence and maturity. 
  • Using your own hard-earned money to take yourself off to travel can also give you a taste of the rewards for working hard.

Unpaid Work Experience

  • Work experience of any kind not only looks good on a CV, but can help give you a better insight into particular workplaces, especially useful if you don’t know which career to enter into and want to use this year to explore prospects. Getting work experience can be as simple as approaching someone in an industry you’re interested in and asking them if you can ‘shadow them’ for a day, a week, or more. You might not get paid but it should help you figure out whether that particular career path is for you.

Volunteering

  • Volunteering not only allows you to build skills, gain experience and give a little back to the community, but it looks great on your CV.
  • If you have an idea of the future career path you want to take, volunteering to gain relevant experience can be a great way of improving your chances of getting a place on a university course, getting an apprenticeship, or getting a job in the field you’re interested in.
  • Options for volunteering at home include charities, schools, residential homes, and sports clubs
  • If you'd prefer to volunteer abroad you could teach English, work for a conservation project (coral reefs, animals), or work for a building project. 
  • Search for volunteering opportunities on Sort to find what’s available at the moment.

Travel 

  • Do you want to ‘find yourself’ through travelling? Maybe there are places in the world you are itching to visit and feel like this might be your only opportunity to. Travelling to new and exciting places can improve your independence and might enable you to discover aspects of yourself you didn’t realise existed.
  • Travelling may also open up new hobbies or interests that you could eventually pursue for a career.

Improving Your Skills

  • Use this year to brush up on your skills and knowledge. You can do this yourself in numerous ways.
  • If you’re interested in creative subjects, use the time to build up your portfolio, showreel, or practice your craft/discipline.
  • Languages are extremely valuable to employers - learn a language while you’re travelling, or use a language learning app like Duolingo to learn wherever you are.
  • Coding is another in-demand skill you could learn on your gap year - Codeacademy offers free online coding courses to help you build your skills.
  • In fact, the internet is home to thousands of courses in a multitude of different career sectors and subject areas. Using online courses can be a great way to sharpen up particular skills, with qualifications achieved from completing these courses being a great asset to any CV.

Phoebe’s Story...

We spoke to Phoebe, a third-year history student at Bristol University, about her gap year experience. She particularly highlighted the importance of funding the experience yourself and the rewarding feeling of doing so. 

 Working in a catering job for six months on full-time hours, Phoebe earned enough money to fund three months solo travelling in Australia, New Zealand and Bali. For the final two weeks that she spent in Bali, she volunteered to teach English at primary school level, an experience she found intensely rewarding, and has been the main factor in her decision to enter into a postgraduate teaching qualification. 

  “Before my gap year I never fully understood the value of working for your own money that you can spend however you want. Working in a job such as catering to fund travelling opened my eyes to the true benefits of working hard in an often gruelling job and has given me more motivation for the future.”

Phoebe also advises to apply sooner rather than later for jobs if you’re planning on working during the year, with the process of applying, being accepted and trained before finally starting work often taking time. This goes for travel plans too. She had booked her flights and itinerary 5 months in advance which she said saved her a huge amount of money, as well as motivating her, giving her an end-goal that was never too far out of sight. 

While Phoebe said that travelling alone has been one of her most eye-opening experiences, she also stresses that solo travel or even travel itself might not be for everyone. 

“Despite losing some of my confidence through a bad social experience at college, I knew that deep down I had the maturity and independence I needed for this type of travel. Travelling all by myself forced me to make decisions for myself, making me more prepared for university in September.”

Her advice is to only take a gap year if you think you’ll use the time productively. We also want to stress that the year out is what you make of it. This might be the first time you’ve had a significant stretch of time to freely decide what you want to do, so don’t waste it sitting around watching Netflix in your room all day, be creative and productive - you won’t regret it. 

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