Should I take a Gap Year? Gap Year Pros & Cons to Help Your Decide
Is a Gap Year a good idea?
In short, yes. If you have the chance, take it!
A gap year is a break taken before university, immediately after, or between jobs. Often spent interning, volunteering or travelling, they are a time for new experiences and personal growth. A gap year is an opportunity to learn skills, discover passions, investigate career paths, explore the world, and, not unimportantly, enjoy life!
And yet, you’ve likely heard mixed responses when asking friends and family: should I take a gap year? There is, of course, a lot to consider and plenty of valid reasons why gap years aren’t for everybody. So, in this post, we’ll map out the gap year pros and cons to help you decide.
Full disclaimer: In our (admittedly biased) opinion, the pros vastly outweigh the cons
Gap Year Pros and Cons
Is a gap year a good idea? Or is taking a gap year bad? Different people have different opinions— and with good reason.
Gap years can be hugely beneficial: personal growth, professional development, and travel. But, they’re not without their disadvantages too: expenses, study interruption, and separation from friends and family. Here are our top things to consider when deciding if a gap year is for you:
Pros for taking a Gap Year
1. Personal growth
For many, a gap year is their first experience of adult life outside of education. For others, it’s a chance to escape the daily stresses and reassess. Either way, a gap year can help you know yourself better. Meeting new people, rising to challenges, and gaining life experience all help to develop a stronger sense of self.
This is probably the number one reason people start wondering: should I take a gap year? In fact, a 2020 survey found that most respondents (81%) were motivated to take a gap year by a desire to grow personally. What’s more, it works. The same survey found that 39% of respondents reported a greater sense of self-direction after their gap year, and 97% felt the experience improved their maturity.
2. You’ll be better prepared for university
This one comes off the back of the last. A stronger sense of self, independence, and maturity are all characteristics of a high-achieving and happy student. A gap year is a perfect chance to attain and develop the life skills that will allow you to fully embrace your time at university.
It is a common misconception that a gap year will distract or deter students from their education. Most, in fact, return to their education reinvigorated and more driven. In the U.K., 60% of those taking a gap year believed it helped with their decision of what to study at university, and 66% claimed they took their studies more seriously upon their return.
3. It can help with university admissions and boost your resume
Another falsehood is that universities disapprove of gap years. Really, the opposite is true. Spent wisely (say, on a volunteering expedition); a gap year can help your application to stand out and actually help your chances at the university of your choice.
Information from university admissions departments and the Higher Education Liaison Officers Association (HELOA) suggests that most universities recognise the increased maturity and motivation that comes with taking a gap year. Many American universities even incentivise gap years through preferred admission, financial aid and course credit.
And this isn’t just the case for students. For the same reasons, a gap year benefits uni admissions; it will boost your resume. There are plenty of opportunities for older gap-year-takers to volunteer, intern, or work that look great on a CV.
4. It helps to avoid burnout
After years of grinding through secondary school and a hard slog of university to come, you’ve earned a break! It could actually improve your academic performance. A gap year is a chance to recuperate and gather strength before taking on the next of life’s challenges.
5. It’ll expand your network
Whether pulling pints in your hometown or visiting new countries, you will meet people and make friends. And, whether you’re looking to get ahead in your career or for a sofa to surf on when travelling, it’s helpful to have friends in the right places.
You’ll be amazed by the connections you’ll make during a gap year, the communities you’ll join, and the opportunities that could come from it. For instance, Raleigh is a global network of over 55,000 alumni and supporters. Someone from this community could be a future employer, employee, or friend; who knows?
6. BONUS!!!: Its a chance to make a meaningful impact in the world
Not everyone chooses to use it this way, but at Raleigh, we think this is how your gap year could become a life-enhancing, transformational experience. There are all kinds of volunteer programmes, internships, and expeditions for the young and older travellers, where you can get involved in humanitarian and ecological projects around the world and work towards lasting change.
A fantastic way to grow personally is to involve yourself in something larger than yourself. You’ll also develop professionally and gain a unique insight into the destinations you visit. All while helping to make the world a better place.
Cons of taking a Gap Year
The first reason people think twice when asking, ‘should I take a gap year?’, is the cost. Costs can add up with everything from flights to program fees to living expenses. So make sure you have your head screwed on regarding budgets, dedicate a portion of the year to working and saving, and investigate work exchange programs like WWOOF or Workaway.
Another thing to consider is that you will have to cover the cost of the gap year itself. If you’re returning to education afterwards, tuition fees could rise. Whilst in the U.K., tuition fees remain frozen until 2025, U.S. tuition fees increase about 8% a year — so they double every nine years.
2. Choice paralysis and planning anxieties
This might seem minor, but you should consider the amount of forethought required to make the most of a gap year. First, there’s deciding what to do during a gap year, then raising funds, planning visas, flights, insurance… the list goes on!
Our advice, if it’s your first time traveling solo, find a company to do some of the leg work for you. For instance, with Raleigh you’ll work with a dedicated specialist to find, book, and prepare for your trip, allowing you to focus on enjoying it.
3. Losing touch and falling behind
A gap year could be the first time leaving home for some. It could mean going to university a year later than friends for others. On top of this, it’s common for those finishing secondary school or university to put a lot of pressure on keeping in step with their peers. As friends move on to new degrees and jobs, a gap year could feel like falling behind.
These are understandable concerns, but remember that the friends that matter will keep in touch, and that whilst you’ll receive your degree a year later, you may get ahead in other respects.
4. It’s hard to justify
‘Is a gap year a good idea?’ is an easy question to answer. “Is it worth the time, money, and effort it’ll cost you?” is more tricky. And, it’s worth keeping in mind, you might have to answer that question to future employers.
To avoid this being an issue, do something you’re proud of with the time. The truth is it can be easy to get distracted from your goals on a gap year, especially when abroad. Make sure you don’t reach the end of yours with nothing to show for it. Use your time wisely and invest in opportunities for professional development or where your work can make an impact.
5. Fear of losing momentum
One of the most common reasons people wonder, ‘is taking a gap year bad?’, is the fear of losing momentum. However, there is little evidence to support this.
As the statistics cited above suggest, most students return from their gap year feeling better prepared for their studies. Moreover, 90% of students who take a gap year return to their studies within a year. It is possible you’ll discover new interests, switch fields of study or career path, but losing momentum is statistically unlikely.
So, is taking a gap year bad?
By now, you’ve probably guessed that we don’t think so. The gap year benefits more than make up for the few drawbacks there are — which can all be easily overcome.
In truth, a gap year will be as good or bad as you make it. It’s really down to you. If you’re asking, should I take a gap year to doss around and party? There might be better uses of your time. If you have career goals and personal growth motivating you, a gap year could be life-changing.
Feel inspired? If you’re approaching the end of secondary school or university, check out our 17-24 volunteer expeditions. Or, if you’re older than 25, check out our Volunteer Manager Expeditions.
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