Tossing up whether or not to take a gap year? You’re not alone. Many people take some time off before starting college or entering the workforce, and it can be an eye-opening time in your life. However, a gap year isn’t all roses and butterflies. It’s not always the right choice for everyone; before you make your final decision, consider the pros and cons.
Remember that a gap year should be flexible, individualized, and custom designed to suit you. Whether you sign up with a ready-made program or arrange the whole thing yourself, make sure you’re keeping sight of what you hope to achieve during this gap year. It doesn’t have to be a yearlong venture, either; a gap year could involve six months of working at home to save money, followed by six months of travel; you might travel the whole time or choose to work or volunteer. Your gap year is what you make of it.
Your gap year is what you make of it.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your great escape.
Pursue an Interest
Graduating from high school – or even college – doesn’t mean that you automatically know what you want to do with your life. You may feel totally clueless and panicked at the thought of choosing a major or a job. Lucky for you, that’s where a gap year comes in. A carefully planned gap year can be your opportunity to pursue an interest in a little more depth. Take a cooking class in Thailand, a French course in Marseilles, or take sitar lessons in India. Use this year off to determine if this interest is something you’d like to explore further or just a passing fancy.
A gap year doesn’t mean living with your parents and watching reality shows all day. This time off is only beneficial if you invest in yourself. Consider volunteering or working abroad as you travel, or incorporate a combination of all three. Several countries offer working holiday visas, which are designed to facilitate a working and traveling lifestyle. Volunteer work looks good on any resume, and you’re likely to experience both personal and professional growth.
You might not be earning college credits during your gap year, but you will be gaining a broader perspective of the world. Step outside of your comfort zone and see how other people live, then compare it with your own life and ask yourself if it’s really worth worrying about first-world problems. Your understanding of other cultures and ways of life may change the way you think.
Break from school
Is it starting to feel like you’ve been going to school your whole life? That’s no illusion, because, well, you probably have been. From kindergarten all the way up until high school and on to higher education, it can sometimes feel like you haven’t had a chance to break free and explore life outside of academia. A gap year between high school and college can give you a breather, allowing you to return to your studies refreshed and motivated.
When your gap year draws to a close, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of your friends who have already completed their first year of school or work. It can be daunting to come back after a whirlwind year of globetrotting, so take advantage of the people close to you. Ask questions. Use what you’ve learned during your time off to decide what you want to get out of the future, and apply it. In return, share what you’ve experienced during your gap year to inspire others.
A gap year isn’t free, particularly if you plan to travel. It takes preparation and money, even if you plan to work. Remember that you’ll need to cover transport, accommodation, food, and insurance, not to mention extras like souvenirs and entertainment. Depending on how you spend your time, you might return with very little in your bank account. Set some financial goals that cover expenses before, during, and after your trip.
Even the most adventurous souls find that they miss their families, especially during special events like birthdays and holidays. You might not realize that you’re one of them until you’re halfway around the world, missing the comforts of home. The good news is that most people can and do get through periods of homesickness. Yes, it can make you stronger, but it’s still tough to endure.
Where’s my epiphany?
Let’s say you go on your gap year to ‘find yourself.’ What do you do if the year ends and you’re still lost? Prepare yourself for the very real possibility that your year of travel will not bring you any closer to knowing what you want out of life. You might return and find yourself in the same position you were in when you left: confused and unsure about your next step. Don’t look at a gap year as the answer to your problems; look at it as part of your overall journey.
Taking a year off means that you need to follow through with your plans. Prepare, prepare, prepare, and not just financially. You don’t need to itemize every little detail of your year, but have a backup plan. What if you arrive at your first destination and it’s not what you expected? Will you stick it out? Will you move on to the next place on your list? Check your expectations at the door before you leave home. You’re in for a year of finding out what the world holds. Some of it will surpass your expectations, but some of it may fall flat.
A year behind
Starting university a year behind your peers can be hard, no matter how awesome the year was. The same goes for entering the work force. Unfortunately, some employers don’t look favorably at your year off, so it’s up to you to show them how it enhanced your skill set. Pitch yourself as being a year ahead.
After weighing up the pros and cons, what did you decide? With the right attitude, reasonable expectations, and adequate preparation, your gap year might turn out to be just what you needed.
Indiana native Lauren Fitzpatrick never got a proper job. Instead, she got work visas for Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Korea. She has held over 30 jobs, including carny, English teacher, and movie extra. Lauren blogs about travel and working abroad at Lateral Movements and GoOverseas.