“Is a gap year a good idea?” We hear this question all the time – both from those with an itching wanderlust and thirst for adventure, and from concerned parents, who want the best for their children’s future. And so, while the answer to this question is always a very personal one, we are going to help you out with a few facts and opinions that might just help you make that all important decision.
First things first
A gap year does not have to be a FULL year. “Gap year” is simply a term used to refer to a “gap” in an academic or professional career.
For many, especially students, it all starts with taking a job at home in order to save precious funds. The best place to start is with a plan of action, breaking your time down into 2-3 month sections and creating a plan around those. Thorough research will be required into where you want to go, what you want to do whilst you’re there, and all manner of other things, like vaccinations and sometimes visas, and all this costs money.
But don’t let this deter you!
A gap year is an excellent way to test your self-sufficiency and independence. There will always be people to help you along the way. But YOU have to make it happen, and make it great!
Dropping out of school, or dramatically handing in your notice at work may feel like ‘pulling-the-bandaid-off’ – but you’d be far better to think about all this logically. Can you defer your schooling for a year, or study abroad, or simply take your gap year across a summer break?
If you already have a job, but no funds, it is definitely best to stick out that job and keep that dollar rolling in whilst you can. With each pay cheque think “that’s another flight”, “that’s a month’s beach-front accommodation” etc, etc.
And as much as we’d all love to live in our sweats and sleep in all day – that gets very boring very quickly, will look bad on a resume – and certainly doesn’t count as a ‘gap year’. The benefits of taking a year out will not be achieved by partying or laying on the couch. To really make sure your gap year is valuable, it is important to make a plan.
“Am I too old, or too young to take a gap year?”
Typically when we talk about gap years, we’re thinking about students – either taking time out after high school graduation, during their college years, or once they complete their degree. But gap years are also enormously popular, and immeasurably valuable to older travellers. Whilst we may call these ‘gap years’ – really we are talking about ‘career breaks’.
If you’ve been running around at work like a headless chicken, maybe hunched over a laptop too long, or at home raising a family, you may need to blow away the cobwebs, reinvigorate, and remind yourself how incredible the big wide world is. Read more about career breaks here.
How can taking a gap year help with my studies?
A great concern for many people (and many parents) is whether taking a gap year could, in fact, have a negative impact on future studies. Some people worry that after some time off, ‘gappers’ may not be able to focus on classes or get out of the habit of attending classes.
Actually, research shows that quite the opposite is true! The American Gap Year Association found that 90% of those who intend to enrol in university after a gap year actually go on to do so within a year of their return.
And not only that, but ‘gappers’, on average, out-perform their fellow students, as well as out-performing their own predicted performance from their high school ratings. Additionally they found those who completed a gap year were less likely to drop out, which is attributed to a greater sense of motivation for their subject. How’s that for some facts!
In fact, more and more universities are encouraging students to defer to take a gap including big drives from Amherst College, Princeton, Harvard, Georgia Tech, Yale, UNC Chapel Hill, and MIT in the USA, as well as most British and Australian institutions.
Taking a gap year is also linked to higher motivation in college, according to an Australian study of 2,502 students (Martin, A. J. (2010). Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 561–576) which reported higher levels of motivation for study in those who completed a gap year.
The study also found that gap years had helped those reporting motivation and performance issues, or suffering academic burn-out. Again, researchers found better “adaptive behaviour” such as planning, task management, and persistence – than in students who did not take a gap year.
For those taking any time out before or during university, across many nations, researchers find motivation for and interest in study to be renewed, and as a result, academic performance increases. This seems like a great reason to support your responsible decision to take a gap year!
How can taking a gap year help my career?
So now we know that gap years can benefit studies, how can it help your career? In a UK survey by milkround, 88% of gap year graduates reported that their gap year directly or indirectly boosted their employability. Reasons included the ability to write fuller applications, standing out at interviews, or because of work experience they gained during their gap year.
In their book The Gap Year Advantage, Haigler and Rae found that students who have taken a gap year overwhelmingly reported being more satisfied with their jobs than the average worker. Upon further inquiry, Haigler found that this was related to a less-selfish approach to working with people, and better clarity about career ambitions.
Gap year students are perceived to be “more mature, more self-reliant and independent” than non-gap year students – which is of great appeal to employers.
How can a gap year help me with my life?
It’s easy to forget sometimes, but the world and its many countries, cultures, and landscapes are remarkable! And not everything has to be about career goals and resume bulking. Sometimes as humans we need to take a step back from our personal bubble of school, work, and modern life, and take an adventure! Develop cross-cultural understandings, live out of a backpack, eat food you’ve never tried!
A gap year challenges you to become a better and braver version of yourself. You will be faced with situations that you haven’t come across before, and your creative problem solving skills will be called upon. But it’s the broken down buses, lost in a market, ‘closed due to festival’ situations that make you feel all the more alive. And you know what, you just learn to go with the flow.
Taking a gap year rounds us in so many ways. The media informs us of world and current affairs, and shapes what we think we know about certain places, people, and cultures. But what about those real people’s stories? A gap year can help us to truly understand how different environments inform cultural foundations, and shape relationships amongst both global and local communities.
Perhaps modern life is not exciting you any more, and instead of going to the gym, you would rather be hiking, kayaking, or scuba diving for that endorphin buzz. Jungles, deserts, mountains, oceans, and so much more – there is a world out there for the taking. Explore and push your comfort zones, and get to really know yourself, and your limits.
A gap year gives us back the ownership for our life-direction, and helps us to understand what it truly means to be a global citizen. If you have a passion for a cause – the rainforest conservation, endangered animals, social injustices – GO! Lend a hand! Be a part of the solution! Own the responsibility for change.
How can I start planning my gap year?
To start planning your gap year, begin by asking yourself these questions:
- What do I hope to get out of my gap year?
- Is there a field of work I might explore during my travels?
- Are there any language skills I’d like to develop or improve?
- What types of activities would I like to participate in?
- What part of the world am I interested in experiencing?
- How will I fund and budget for my gap year?
If you are not sure about some of these answers, then you can always speak to advisors who can help guide you in your consideration. You can make an appointment to speak with a Kaya advisor any time.
North American gappers can also contact the services of a gap year consultant to help them plan their gap year. Here are just some of the excellent consultants Kaya Responsible Travel has worked with:
At Kaya Responsible Travel we offer such a variety of destinations and volunteer placements, there is certainly something for everyone. From projects in Asia, Latin America, or Africa, or focuses including conservation, community development, health, medicine, veterinary, and a huge amount more – you can find placements for your gap year volunteering that will make it all the more meaningful, fulfilling, and worthwhile.
With so many good reasons to take a gap year, what are you waiting for? Connect with one of our Kaya placement advisors and start planning a gap year that is going to make a real difference to you, and to others around the world…
“TRAVEL IS FATAL TO PREJUDICE, BIGOTRY, AND NARROW MINDEDNESS, AND MANY OF OUR PEOPLE NEED IT SORELY ON THESE ACCOUNTS.” Mark Twain
“THE WORLD IS A BOOK AND THOSE WHO DO NOT TRAVEL READ ONLY A PAGE.” Saint Augustine