Gap years are quite common among college graduates. Indeed, opting to take time off after finishing a degree is becoming the norm for many, whether it’s because they don’t know what field they want to enter or because they need a little time to recalibrate after a stressful final year.
Are you considering a gap year? We’ve prepared a list of gap year pros and cons to help you reach a decision!
Regardless whether you’re taking a break before you enter college or after you graduate, it will come with its perks. In this section, we’ll look at 10 benefits of doing a gap year!
1. You’ll learn new skills
One of the main reasons you should consider taking a gap year is the opportunities you’ll have to develop new skills.
Indeed, gap years are great learning opportunities, and there will be ample ways to amplify your skill set. Say you’ve always wanted to learn how to code, read more about world history or learn how to cook — this could be the year that you check these things off your bucket list!
If your plan is to travel, then you could also commit to learning a language or two on the way. You could also take online courses, work as a volunteer or enroll in real classes. These could prove to be truly beneficial at the end of your gap year, too, as it will act as proof that you used your time proactively.
Ty Stewart, CEO and president of Simple Life Insure, suggests that by taking a break, you can achieve career clarity while also building valuable workplace skills. He says: “I’d much rather hire someone who learned how to code or launched a freelance writing business during their gap year and can leverage those skills for my business’s growth than someone who’s played it safe their whole life.”
So, regardless how you choose to spend your year off, you ought to utilize your time to diversify your interests.
2. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience
Let’s face it: taking a year-long break to explore the world, travel, work odd jobs and experience new realities is a unique opportunity. Throughout college, you may have been told time and time again something along the lines of “Travel now while you still can!” And there is truth behind this over-reiterated claim.
There’s no better time to do a gap year than right after college — with a degree in the bag, no looming deadlines or a career on the line, you’ll have all the freedom in the world to travel without any strings or responsibilities attached.
Pete Sosnowski, cofounder and VP of Zety, suggests that “being in a different place is a perfect opportunity to learn about different cultures, traditions and routines. Broader horizons equals more open-mindedness, flexibility and [the] capacity to adapt to different circumstances.”
All in all, your gap year will be an enriching experience for you, which you will undoubtedly cherish later on.
3. Universities and employers encourage it
If you plan on going back to school after your undergrad, a gap year could enhance your application, especially if you spend your time working or volunteering within the field you plan on doing your master’s or PhD in. For example, if you plan on pursuing a master’s in marine biology and you spend a few months to a year working at a marine research institute, this would definitely work in your favor.
Indeed, according to Jamie Beaton, cofounder and CEO of Crimson Education, applicants applying to grad schools could be rewarded for taking a gap year. For example, medical schools put weight on experiences such as in-field volunteering and the maturity it can bring.
Employers may also weigh a gap year in your favor as it could reveal a lot about your character. When talking about the process of hiring his own staff, Neal Taparia, cofounder of SOTA Partners and Solitaired, explains that a gap year could suggest a person is “adventurous and willing to take risks to do something they care about. It also shows me that person is willing to take the time to consider where they want to go in their career, and not rush into anything… I want someone who challenges the norm, because those people will bring new ideas to my company.”
4. You build up work experience
If you already know which field you want to work in, then finding an internship, traineeship or entry-level position could be the perfect way to enhance your résumé with real experience before pursuing a more permanent role. Not only that, but you will also have the opportunity to create a professional network, accumulate business contacts and save money while you’re at it.
Even if you spend your gap year working within a sector or an industry that you’re not planning to pursue a career path in, chances are you’ll accumulate a range of transferable skills and knowledge which you can apply to future roles, too.
5. It will boost your résumé
Employers usually take an interest in individuals who have taken a gap year. As long as you’re able to prove that your time off has been productive on a professional level, it could enhance your overall profile as a candidate and make you a more interesting and memorable individual. Sosnowski concurs: “Applicants with a productive gap year have an advantage over other graduates who are trying to go right into the job market.”
So, if you have your eye on a competitive role, you can use your gap year to your advantage and use your newly accumulated skills and experiences to enhance your résumé and distinguish yourself from a sea of graduates applying for the same position.
6. It will help you grow as a person
The year after you finish your first degree can be quite a shock. Indeed, after spending over a decade of your life in school, it can take a bit of time to get used to life without midterms, deadlines and class schedules. Learning to establish your own daily structure takes time, so before you can dive into the 9-to-5 world order, you could take a year to adjust to this new reality.
Jim Sullivan, president and cofounder of JCSI, explains that “with schooling, these students are told where to be and how to act with little freedom to explore who they are. A gap year full of new experiences will help develop a more mature person.”
So, by having a year to yourself, you could become more independent and gain a better sense of your goals and aspirations. To be successful, you need to create opportunities for growth by devoting time to your personal development.
7. You can pursue other passions
Another significant benefit of taking a gap year is that you will have the time to pursue your passion projects. Say you’ve studied chemical engineering but you’ve always been fond of photography, for example: you could dedicate this year to learning about and doing more photography!
You could also devote time to a business idea you never had time to pursue during your studies or work in a completely different field which you’re curious about. Remember: gap years are all about personal development, and by using this time productively, you could make impressive additions to your arsenal.
8. You’ll make new connections
Whether you get on a plane and travel abroad to volunteer or land an internship at a company that inspires you, your new start will lead to new connections. These can come in the form of friendships, which is sure to boost your overall happiness, or professional relationships. The latter is just as valuable, too!
Expanding your professional network fresh out of college will give you an advantage later on. If you make a good impression and stay in touch, these people will think of you when an opportunity pops up in the future.
9. You can plan your next steps carefully
A lot of the time, young adults experience a sense of pressure to have everything figured out. Right now. This sometimes comes from external sources, such as anxious parents passing down their worries. With or without stressed caregivers, however, the unknown nature of the future can be intimidating!
Instead of making a hurried decision about starting a career or moving out, you can always shift into lower gear and take some time. When used wisely, a gap year allows you to do just that.
10. You can gain confidence
Spending your gap year doing things out of your comfort zone will come with its long-term effects. Very positive ones! Whether you volunteer, work or travel, you’ll come up against new situations and learn how to become more self-reliant.
Exploring unfamiliar territories, even metaphorically, has been shown to increase our psychological resilience — and happiness! This means you’ll be better equipped to take healthy risks in the future. It can also teach you to view challenges as an opportunity to learn rather than a terrifying reality to hide from.
Taking a gap year after high school, before you start college or even as a graduate, can have its downsides. Here are 10 things to consider when deciding your next move.
1. You may lose momentum
Usually, during the end of your degree, you’re at an academic peak. If you’re considering taking on further studies after your gap year, you could lose academic momentum and find it difficult returning to the grind after a year out.
Likewise, if you spend your time in college setting the foundations for a career, a year out could have its downturns on your motivation and drive.
Nonetheless, if higher education has left you mentally and physically drained, then a year out could still be a good call. Indeed, it’s quite common to feel burned out after an intense year of studies, and a year off could help you recharge before resuming your academic or career journey.
2. You’ll miss out on other opportunities
Before you go through with your decision, you must consider the opportunity cost, too. That is: the alternatives you’ll miss out on in order to pursue this option. For example, you might forego an internship, a graduate scheme or the chance to pursue an advanced degree after your graduation.
You might not be able to pursue some opportunities after your gap year (for example, some graduate jobs are only available for applicants during their first year after graduation), so it’s important to weigh these options before making a final decision.
3. It could be expensive
This is usually the main concern for graduates considering a year out. Of course, it all comes down to factors such as your financial wellbeing and what you plan on doing during your gap year.
For example, if you want to spend the year backpacking around the world, your finances will definitely take a hit. However, there are several solutions to this problem. For starters, you could take on a gig economy job or find local opportunities for that period of time (you’ll need a working holiday visa in most cases). You could also save up by working for half a year before hopping on a plane and spend the rest of the year traveling.
Of course, that’s not the only expenses you need to consider. If you plan on living away from home, you’ll also need to pay for expenses such as rent, utility bills and groceries, at the very least. So, regardless how you choose to spend the year, you’ll need to ensure that you can support yourself financially. Creating a budget plan and estimating yearly costs might be a good first step!
4. You may feel left behind
With your friends embarking on their master’s and starting their graduate jobs, you might feel a little left behind during your year out. At the beginning, it might seem like you’re floating about while everyone else is getting ahead career-wise; this could be especially true if your gap year is more laidback and not as thoroughly planned.
However, this is quite normal and can be avoided by setting achievable goals for yourself and simple planning, which brings us to the next point.
5. You’ll need to create a thorough plan
To make your gap year truly count, you’ll need a detailed plan. Of course, that doesn’t mean planning everything by the hour — the whole point of a gap year is to get used to living without a strict academic schedule and following a term-by-term kind of rhythm.
But even so, you should still have a general idea of what you want to do during that year. Otherwise, it might all be for nothing, and you could end up losing on other opportunities which you declined in order to have this gap year.
You need to have something to show for not just to your nosy relatives who are still questioning your gap year decision but also prospective employers or academic institutions.
But the planning doesn’t end there; you must also make time to consider what follows once this year comes to an end: your goals, aspirations as well as an actionable plan that will help you launch into the next stage of your life.
6. It could affect your job prospects
According to a study by ResumeGo, applicants with work gaps in their résumés had a 45% less chance of landing a job interview. Nonetheless, those who provided reasons for their employment gap received 60% more interviews.
Sullivan advises that “the presence of a gap year on a candidate’s résumé does not automatically push them ahead of other candidates or reduce the chances of their hiring. It is just an experience that each candidate will handle differently. But many recruiters and hiring experts have seen the benefits through their experiences and understand how a gap year can help a young person prepare for entering the workforce and being a difference-maker within the company they will work for.”
The takeaway here is that your gap year should count towards something. Otherwise, you’d be facing an unconcealable gap on your résumé, which most employers won’t be impressed with. As already mentioned, if you don’t take advantage of this time to gain more skills, qualifications and experience, a gap year could do more harm than good.
7. It can result in anxiety
Let’s face it: new beginnings can be uncomfortable. Though this is certainly not a reason to avoid them, you’ll want to be honest with yourself about your limits. For example, signing up for a gap year program and moving abroad to volunteer may sound exciting, but do you have the resources for it? Not just the financial resources, but the emotional capacity, too.
And. if university has exhausted you, are you expecting your gap year to remedy how you’re feeling? Are you using it as an escape or to postpone making bigger life decisions? While there’s nothing wrong to seek out a pick-me-up when you need it, make sure you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons.
8. You’ll lose your routine
The contrast between studying and taking a gap year can be as dramatic as day and night. That’s why you need to be prepared to have your day-to-day life flipped upside down!
You’re probably thinking: “I’m dying to give up my boring routine!” And it may be true, except even boring routines play a fundamental role in our mental health and wellbeing. That’s because they add a healthy structure to our day: we know what time we’re eating, sleeping, exercising and relaxing.
When that gets thrown out the window, it can get distressing, particularly for individuals more prone to anxiety.
9. It can get physically tiring
Adjusting to new surroundings, work environments and even people can be taxing! Apart from the potential to become mentally tiring, however, a gap year can take a toll on the body, too.
Wanting to make the most out of their year off, many graduates will try to do it all: travel, work and volunteer, one after the other or all at once. So, if you’re planning on making it a memorable, action-packed year, just bear in mind that overdoing it can cause you to crash.
While physical fatigue doesn’t have to deter you, it’s important not to romanticize the idea of your gap year, but rather to have realistic expectations.
10. You might do it for the wrong reasons
If most of your friends are doing a gap year, you might be feeling like you’d be missing out unless you joined. Or maybe you didn’t take a gap year before college and you’re now regretting it — even though your priorities have changed in the meantime. It could even be that you’re viewing a year off as the “easy way out”, without realizing.
Figuring out your next steps as a graduate can be tough. Being away from your friends for the first time can also be scary! However, it’s best to pursue something out of genuine interest and curiosity rather than fear of something else.
There’s a lot to take into consideration when it comes to taking a gap year. Just like every other life decision, there will be both positives and negatives that could come from it. So, spend a little time weighing the various factors discussed above to make an informed decision.
As long as you treat your gap year as an opportunity to enrich your views, challenge yourself and experience new things, you won’t regret it!
Can you think of any other gap year advantages and disadvantages? Share them with us in the comments section below!
Originally published on April 27, 2017. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.