When you come to the end of your school studies, you're faced with a multitude of life-altering decisions. Do you want to go to university? If so, where? If not, what do you want to do? This is a time of real confusion and stress, which is unfortunate if you are, like me, quite an indecisive person.
One option you should consider is taking a gap year. If you're unfamiliar with this term, a gap year means taking a year out of your studies, usually the year before you go off to university. Gap years are stereotypically associated with traveling, backpacking across sunny countries without a care in the world. But, whilst travel is a great idea for your gap year, there are also other benefits of taking a gap year and other things you can do to make the most of your time. These are five major reasons why you should take a year out.
As mentioned previously, travel is the first thing that tends to spring to mind upon hearing the term 'gap year'. Whether this be a year of backpacking, a few weekend breaks with friends or simply exploring the country you live in, travel is an enriching and confidence-boosting activity.
Sadly, travel is expensive, and as a teenager, it is unlikely you will be able to fund an Instagram-worthy world tour to fill your year. But, there are ways in which you can travel for less, such as gap year programs, volunteer placements, and package deals. For example, one popular gap year travel option is Interrailing - this involves buying a fixed-cost ticket in which you can travel on trains around Europe for an allocated amount of time and staying in hostels to keep the prices low and student-friendly. With a bit of research, it's likely you will be able to find something which suits your goals and your budget.
2. Earn money
Whilst travel is a fun option, it is massively expensive, and definitely not an affordable option in many cases. This is where earning money comes in. You'll have this entire year free, leaving you with a lot of spare time to work and save up some money. The most obvious ideas for gap year employment would be in retail or hospitality, as shops, supermarkets and restaurants are often willing to hire younger, less experienced workers. Not only will you earn money this way, you'll also meet some new people, and gain experience for your CV which will make you stand out amongst others your age who haven't necessarily got much job experience.
For some people, this might involve working for 6 months or so, saving up money, and then using this money to go traveling for the rest of the time you have left before university. This leaves you with a decent amount of cash to cover your travels, and maybe even some extra left over.
Alternatively, the money you save can be put aside for university. With the huge costs university can incur, such as for equipment and accommodation, it definitely won't hurt to put a bit extra aside as and when you can.
3. Develop your skills
Taking a gap year can give you a good opportunity to develop some of your skills and build up experience that will benefit you in the future. If there is a certain career you know you want to go into one day, you can spend this year working towards this goal by building up skills and evidence of your suitability for this job. For instance, if your goal is to become a writer, use this year to produce some samples for your writing portfolio.
Whether you choose to build up a portfolio of some kind, get an internship or work experience placement, or even research potential jobs you may like to do one day, your gap year can give you the time needed to dedicate yourself to preparing for your future.
4. Have a well-earned break
It is no secret that your last years of school are, in a word, stressful. Dominated by university applications, important exams and attempts to snatch those last few moments with your friends, you can end up feeling burnt out and exhausted. Taking a gap year gives you some time to recover from this.
Personally, I think that this is just as important as productivity in your gap year. If your mental health isn't in a good state, going straight to university and adding on more pressure will only harm you in the long run. A gap year will allow you to take a bit of a break and invest some time into yourself - you'll be doing yourself a massive favour, I promise!
As cliche as this may sound, a gap year can be the perfect time to do a bit of soul-searching and rediscover those forgotten aspects of yourself. I found that, particularly in my final year of A-levels, my passions and hobbies had to be put on the back burner in order for me to apply all my time and effort to my grades - does this sound familiar? Get back into that hobby you miss! Maybe you want to start playing that sport or musical instrument again, or you haven't been reading many books recently, or you have a burning desire to learn a completely new skill. Whatever it is, getting back into the things that you love will help you become a happier, more fulfilled person, which will of course be beneficial to you overall.
5. Get educated on what you want to study
In the name of productivity, you could also use this time to get ahead and learn about the subject you're planning to study at university. If you're going to study English Literature, for example, reading some classic novels or studying some of the most influential literary movements will place you in good stead for when you start your degree.
Whatever you want to study, doing some research around your subject will put you in a great position for when you start your course. This will also help make sure you remain engaged in learning, rather than allowing your gap year to completely throw you off course.
If you enjoy your time, look after yourself, and keep touching on your subjects, taking a gap year could be one of the best decisions you've ever made. Enjoy!