Why You Should Consider Taking a Gap Year

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27 April 2024

By Amy

Gap years often get a bad rep, but whether you’re a secondary school student no way near the task of deciding what to do after you finish school, or a sixth form student considering what options are available post-18 beyond the traditional route, thinking about a year out can be beneficial. So, here are five reasons why a gap year could be the right choice for you, and why I’ve personally chosen to take one before going to university.

A break from education can be a good thing

By the time you are 18, given that you will have been in the education system for 14 years and have had an average of 13 weeks of holiday a year, you will only have had 182 full weeks off school, which adds up to only 3.5 years of free time. Of course, we get weekends off, but the point remains that you will have been in education for almost 80% of your life.

So, why is there such a rush to go straight back into it? Many people choose to go straight to uni from school to keep the momentum of motivation or simply because it is the norm. However, it’s important to know that there is no right age to go to uni. Whether you are 18, 19, 20 or even older when starting university, it doesn’t matter. In fact, you may be even more prepared for the change of living independently if you have taken a year out to do something proactive, such as travelling or getting work experience. In short, it can be a very good decision to experience life outside of school for a while before starting uni or a job, because the opportunity to take a whole year out once you have started your career will be rare.

10 Signs You’ve Become A Cliché Year Abroad Student

(This comedic article, although about year abroad students, reflects many people’s stereotypical views about people who take gap years.)

Learn new skills

Taking a gap year allows you to do all the things you may not have had time for during Sixth Form and to learn things that school doesn’t teach you. If you have many hobbies that need to be pursued, you can use this time to become a more well-rounded person before going to university.Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a language beyond daily Duolingo courses, or you’ve tried to learn an instrument and haven’t had enough time. Either way, a whole 365 days of freedom will give you plenty of time to widen your skills.

See the world

If this is something that interests you, travelling can be a very beneficial option for you. Not only does it open up endless opportunities of meeting new people, discovering new places and learning about different cultures, it also teaches you independence, which will help you massively at university. Handling your passport, any documents and all your belongings on your own is good practice for potentially moving out of your parent’s home.

And, it doesn’t have to be crazy expensive! There are so many ways you can make travel more affordable and still enjoy seeing the world. For example, for £247, you can buy a one-month Interrail Pass that lets you travel anywhere in Europe by train on seven set travel days. Or, you can opt for fewer travel days for the cheapest option of £183. This is a great, simple and more environmentally friendly way of getting around the most popular tourist locations, such as Paris, Barcelona and Rome, as well some as the less frequented cities, such as Prague, Sofia and Belgrade.

Another popular, more cost-effective choice than touristy travelling is to become an au pair. This is a form of cultural exchange when someone between the ages of 18 and 30 goes and lives with a family in a country that isn’t their own, who speak a language that they don’t speak, in order to learn each other’s language and culture. The reason this is so popular is because the host family pays for your accommodation and food, and provides your own bedroom, in exchange for light housework and looking after the children. Your role is to be a helpful, extra family member while getting paid a minimum of 70€ a week. (If you want to know more about how to become an au pair, I will be writing an article about it soon.)

Get some experience

If you want to earn money for university, a gap year is a great time to get a job. Whether it is a job in retail, just for the money, or in a company whose field you’d like to work within in the future, any form of employment will form a good experience. You will learn how to save money, how tax works and what employers expect from you. These transferable skills will also help you in whatever you decide to do afterwards, whether it is go to university, do an apprenticeship or start working full time.

In addition, you can use this time to get involved in community projects or volunteer for a charity, such as FareShare North East, a charity in Newcastle that distributes food to organisations all across the UK. This is a great way of meeting like-minded people and can provide a welcome structure if you are struggling to find your feet outside of school.

Learn more about yourself and what you want

The test of time is great when it comes to choices about university; if you are still just as excited to study your course after a year out, it shows you have made the right decision. Also, if you haven’t chosen to apply for uni with a deferred entry during sixth form, it gives you a lot of time to ponder and decide what you want to study. On the other hand, a lot of things can change in a year and you may find that the course you’ve applied for is not the right decision for you, which allows you to change it, rather than starting and discovering that it is not the right one.

Beyond this, gap years give you time to reflect on who you are as a person and what happiness looks like for you. Faced with a blank canvas not dictated by the government’s curriculum and a never-ending to-do list, you will be forced to decide what you want to devote your time to.

I hope this article has shown that not going straight into a traditional path after graduating can be a great idea in many ways! Just make sure that before you consider a gap year, if you’re planning to go to uni, you have check if your course permits it, as some degrees such as maths and physics don’t favour applicants who have taken gap years.

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