The Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year

Student Life

The controversial gap year, a rapidly growing phenomenon that unleashes students on a year of freedom before they advance to the next stage of their education at university.

My gap year began with a week's travel in Europe with my boyfriend, followed by a solo trip volunteering as an English teacher at an orphanage in Morocco. From here, I flew out to commence a Working Holiday in Sydney, where I have worked as an au-pair for the majority of the past ten months.

With the money I saved au-pairing, I took two months out to travel South East Asia with my boyfriend - backpacking Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. During my time in Australia, I also funded domestic travel around the East Coast through petsitting and housesitting exchanges.

I feel that a gap year was undoubtedly the right choice for me, and it has built my resume while facilitating travel opportunities. Time out from study has allowed me to focus on expanding my professional writing experience through a series of remote internships, blogging, and participation in online courses.

In saying this, there is no 'one size fits all' when considering and planning a break from studies. If you are on the fence about whether you should, here are my honest thoughts on why taking a gap year is/isn't worth it.

1. Worth it - A chance to develop your life skills

Balancing finances, responsibilities, and safety - a trip abroad hones hundreds of valuable life skills. Whether you are relying on communication skills at a work experience placement, leadership skills while teaching English, or resilience when lost in a foreign country with no 3g, know that you will be challenged and tested every step of the way.

The opportunity to advance your life skills is a massive advantage of taking a gap year. Developing hard and soft skills will look impressive on your resume and leave you better equipped for university and the workplace.

The Year Out Group found that '80% of people thought that their gap year added to their employability.'; supporting the notion that the effective use of a year 'out' can cultivate serious long term benefits.

2. Worth it - A chance to meet new people

Through hostels, volunteer programs, social media groups, and bars, meeting new people is a guarantee when embarking on a gap year. While you should always keep safety in mind when connecting with strangers abroad, these encounters can grow into lasting friendships and valuable cultural experiences.

Meeting new people is the most liberating aspect of a gap year - if your friends don't share your gap year dreams, you can always jump on the plane alone. The misconception around loneliness and solo travel was my biggest surprise while traveling.

My reality was that managing to spend time alone was virtually impossible; I found myself continuously approached by both fellow travellers and friendly locals.

Meeting new people is an inevitable factor in an incredible gap year and will rocket your self-confidence and communication skills.

3. Worth it - A chance to have incredible experiences

Likely the driving force in your gap year motivation, a year out can provide incredible experiences. You may have always wanted to attend Oktoberfest or La Tomatina, or perhaps it has been a lifelong dream to swim with a wild dolphin - gap years encourage the pursuit of experiences that will last a lifetime.

A year out can prove a valuable investment in yourself and a powerful act of self-love. The Year Out Group suggests that "change is essential as variety makes us feel alive, engaged, and it helps us grow and learn new things, enabling us to discover more about ourselves." Gap years may seem indulgent, and that is entirely okay.

4. Worth it - A chance to earn money

Despite popular belief, a gap year does not have to be a financial liability. The Year Out Group found that '80% of UK gap year students work in Britain at some point during their gap year.' ; banishing the myth that gap years require prior saving or wealthy background.

The professional experience gained through work provides beneficial additions to your resume and valuable references for the future.

Using the year to work, can allow you to save for university or further travel. Students often split the year into six months sections - working half, then travelling half with the money they save.

If working in your home country does not appeal, why not research similar options abroad? Working as an au-pair in Australia, for example, funded approximately 80% of my gap year while allowing me to explore a new country simultaneously.

5. Worth it - A chance to get a clearer idea of your future career path

For those unsure on which degree or career pathway to take, a gap year can provide time to make a more informed decision. Through relevant work experience or internships, you may find yourself enjoying things you would never expect.

Sometimes, a break from the education system's pressure can clear your mind and allow you to focus more clearly on future goals.

6. Not worth it - You risk losing motivation

The Year Out found that '90% of gap year students who originally intended to go to university on their return do so.'. While this statistic may seem high, there is still a risk that you will become one of that 10%.

When embarking on a gap year, you need to be honest with yourself about your ability to remain motivated to continue your education. University is not for everyone, but if it is necessary for your desired career path, a degree can be detrimental for your future career.

A way to combat loss of motivation is by engaging in consistent forms of study and professional development throughout your gap year. Participating in ongoing learning will ensure you remain driven, self-motivated, and able to exercise self-control.

7. Not worth it - You risk wasting time

A real issue is that taking a year out of your education will prove to be a waste of time. Should your plans fall through or not live up to your expectations, you could easily find yourself in this uncomfortable situation.

Of course, there are ways to limit the risk of this occurring. Try to have set goals that you wish to achieve in your gap year or a list of bucket list experiences to tick off; this way, you will have a clear idea of what you deem worthy of this time.

Additionally, by planning and creating a loose structure for your gap year, you are more likely to maximise the time. Try to remain realistic; if you have saved £750, a three-month luxury trip around the Maldives might be off the cards.

8. Not worth it - You risk losing touch with friends

Losing touch with friends is a natural and common fear. If you choose to head abroad while they head to university, it is healthy for both of you to drift slightly and connect with new people.

However, like any relationship, a strong friendship will stand the test of distance and time. Especially with social media on your side, staying in regular contact with friends is only as tricky as you make it.

To counteract this risk, set time aside to maintain your friendships. Virtual girls nights, following the same Netflix series, and both remembering and celebrating birthdays are all great ways to do this. If your friendships survived lockdown, trust me, they will survive a gap year.

9. Not worth it - You risk spending a lot of money

There is no denying that a gap year can quickly burn a hole in your pocket. I do not doubt that I have spent close to £10,000 over the past year.

Fund My Travel found that "an average gap year cost was about $5000" - although costs can vary dramatically depending on your plans. The best way to limit the money that you spend is by planning and budgeting your year thoroughly.

I knew that I could not afford to travel for as long as I wanted, but this planning allowed me to apply for an Australian working holiday visa to stretch my trip out.

10. Not worth it - You risk finding yourself alone

Loneliness will inevitably raise it's ugly head at least once on your gap year, and unfortunately, that is to be expected. While your friends are all taking different paths, you may be solo in a foreign country, or immersed in demanding work or internships.

Loneliness is experienced differently on an individual basis; while extroverted people may struggle more when alone, they're also more likely to find connecting with new friends easily. Likewise, introverted people may cherish some time alone, but find it challenging to make new friends on their trip.

When considering loneliness on your gap year, try to put some plans in place to target the feeling before it arises. These plans could include: staying in hostel dorm rooms, booking group tours, joining a volunteer program for part of the trip, or joining Facebook groups for backpackers in the area.

Most importantly, if you are having a bad day, give yourself a break and engage in some self-care - if Netflix is your remedy at home, why should it be any different abroad? Many cities offer free walking tours, which may also help you feel more grounded if you are finding yourself anxious as well.

Fearing loneliness is a valid concern for your gap year, but remember that you have a high degree of control over it.

Establishing a rough plan, making contact with any relevant organisations, and creating a realistic budget and saving plan are all steps to take earlier rather than later. For those with skeptical parents, your careful consideration will help to prove your responsibility and mature attitude towards both your education and personal development.

Whether or not you take a gap year is a highly personal decision. Allow yourself plenty of time to consider the potential benefits and challenges that may accompany taking a year out from your studies.

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Eibhlis Gale-Coleman

Eibhlis Gale - Coleman is a 19-year-old girl from the UK. She has lived in Australia for the past 8 months and is currently working as an au-pair in Sydney.


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