Written by: Sophie Hamilton
Taking a gap year can be an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It challenges you to venture further outside your comfort zone than ever before and sit in the driver’s seat, as it were, for the first time. But why consider this route after university?
The standard definition of a gap year is a period of around 3-12 months, taken as a break from formal study, which is typically used to travel, work or plan what one’s next steps will be. While there is a stereotype that they are solely reserved for white middle-class students hoping to ‘find themselves in Thailand’ or ‘live it up in Australia’, this is not the case. In fact, 44% of individuals don’t spend their year out travelling at all, with many staying in the UK doing back-to-back internships, part-time work, volunteering or exploring different career paths.
Taking a gap year after university offers the perfect buffer between the education system and the real world
The best time to take a gap year differs for everyone but, in recent years, they have become increasingly popular among more mature, university graduates. One benefit of this is that you can fully focus on your studies in your final year, without the added pressure of having to complete dozens of job or masters applications (which can become a full-time chore). Many also find that taking a gap year after university offers the perfect buffer between the education system and the real world, and with covid stripping thousands of young people of their precious time at university, it is no wonder that so many are opting to make up for lost time while they are still young and lack significant responsibility.
Gap years are a luxury; they allow graduates to afford to really step back, recalibrate and thoroughly plan what they want to do next. The benefits of this are twofold: it increases the likelihood that they will find something that is the right fit and it promotes positive mental health. University finals are incredibly intense and stressful, so taking a well-earned break, to recover from burnout, might prove far more beneficial in the long run, enabling graduates to eventually enter the working world refreshed and ready to focus.
Many employers value them because they indicate strong character.
Professionally speaking, gap years offer a variety of benefits. Many employers value them because they indicate strong character. For instance, when talking about his hiring process, cofounder of SOTA Partners and Solitaired, Neal Taparia, explained that; “[a gap year] suggests a person is adventurous and willing to take risks to do something they care about. It shows 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.”
It is no surprise that 84% of former gap year students claim to have acquired skills they believe will help them be successful in their future careers, such as a language or ability to teach. This wealth of unique experience can be drawn upon as examples in future cover letters and interviews, in order to stand out from other candidates. Talking about your time as a ski instructor as proof of your leadership abilities is going to be far more memorable than talking about the time you lead a school group project!
The best way to use a year out is therefore by being proactive and making a plan of action beforehand
Having a productive year out can absolutely enhance a CV, however this only happens when candidates are able to directly show employers how it benefitted them professionally. A nothingness year of simply delaying a corporate career won’t be worthwhile and could appear lazy. For this reason, Manuel Souto-Otero, senior lecturer in social sciences at Cardiff University, warns that some prospective employers or academic institutions may not like seeing work gaps on CVs. “You are delaying your career or further study for a year and some employers may not get why you’ve done it.”
Nevertheless, candidates who provide clear reasons for their employment gap receive 60% more job interviews than those without gap years. The best way to use a year out is therefore by being proactive and making a plan of action beforehand. If you like structure, you could sign up to an organised programme, such as Camp America, a volunteering scheme, a sports course, a work placement or a ski season. Keeping busy will also help you avoid ever feeling lost or like you are trailing behind your peers.
Gap years are all about enrichment, personal development and creating lifelong memories
Having something lined up for after, whether that be a job or further study, can also help you maintain momentum. If you are travelling, consider having a fixed date to return home by and be aware of any application deadlines or interview dates. Be conscious of the fact that some graduate jobs are only available for applicants during their first year after graduation too.
Gap years are all about enrichment, personal development and creating lifelong memories, so however the year is spent, the possibilities for social growth are endless. Travelling boosts cultural sensitivity, working enhances commercial awareness and meeting new people (and in many cases, gaining lifelong friends) is often a highlight. In fact, 97% of youngsters claim to have gained higher self-confidence and increased maturity levels on their year out.
However, the high financial demands of a gap year are unfortunately one of its biggest drawbacks – particularly if you are planning to travel abroad for an extended period of time. The current rate of inflation has only exacerbated this, with living costs becoming unbearable for so many.
If you do want to ultimately enter the corporate world, remember that it is unlikely that you will ever get so much time off again
Nevertheless, the good news is that nowadays there are endless gap year opportunities that you can always find something suitable. Numerous gap year grants and scholarships are available and simply saving up, budgeting and researching thoroughly can go a long way.
Gap years aren’t for everyone – some are desperate to kickstart their career straight away and have minimal interest in travelling. However, if you do want to ultimately enter the corporate world, remember that it is unlikely that you will ever get so much time off again and could be working for the next few decades.
So my advice is go for it…it might end up being the best year of your life.
If you have spent the last 21 years of your life on the metaphorical treadmill of the education system, it might be incredibly refreshing to step off and steadily adjust to a new reality without constant deadlines and class timetables. If you don’t have to juggle this with new career worries, you could pursue some passion projects; learn a new sport that you have always wanted to or devote time to a business idea you never had time to during your studies.
You don’t always need to rush through life to the next stage. Sometimes it is nice to live in the moment and indulge in some adventuring, and if you prepare adequately, gap years can be extremely rewarding. So my advice is go for it…it might end up being the best year of your life.