A gap year! A few years ago this phrase was casually thrown around, but now the word's ‘gap year’ seem to be on every young person’s lips. It seems that every time a gap year is mentioned it's met with ideas of beautiful beaches, beautiful people and a wonderful time. But what are they like in reality? Are gap year programs really all sunshine and daisies or is there a little more to them?
One surefire way to convince your mom and dad to let you take a gap year is to do your homework. This list details the pros and cons of taking a gap year to help you decide if it’s really right for you.
PRO: It'll make your resume look pretty snazzy
A gap year can provide a person with valuable new skills that any employer will be impressed by. Cultural awareness, organization, and an ability to work independently are just some of the skills that are gained by taking a year out.
CON: You'll be a year behind
This can be a tough one for many people. They wave as their friends all trek to college and start their new lives and they are left behind. They can’t start their new adventure yet because they don’t have the cash. This is easily offset by working hard and saving cash quickly in order to jet off as soon as possible.
PRO: You'll meet new people
On a gap year it’s impossible not to meet new people. Throughout school and college we are surrounded by the same folks but taking a gap year allows us to discover others, make new friends, and interact with people from all walks of life.
CON: You'll be homesick
It’s something that hits most of us at some point. Whether you're missing family, friends or simply home comforts, you may find yourself wondering why you chose a life on the road. But fear not! The joy of travel is that there is always somebody to meet and something to do. Power through and you'll be glad you did.
PRO: You'll have tons of stories
After spending a year away the stories will mount up; these can be great conversation starters in the interview room, at parties or, simply just to look back on and remember.
CON: It's a risk
Sure it is! But where do we get in life if we aren’t willing to take risks? This is what makes a gap year so exciting; not knowing what to expect is all part of the adventure. The key is to take care and travel with common sense. Fun fact: I've yet to meet a gap year traveler or career breaker who "regretted" their decision to hit the road.
PRO: It’s a long escape from the daily grind
A gap year, for most people, is the period of non-traditional life that you'll ever have. It is often a once in a lifetime experience and the chance to escape the daily grind. However, if planned right, it will also be an educational opportunity of growth and other benefits and not just a "vacation" or year off. A gap year should be a year on.
CON: It can be expensive
This depends on the destination and the duration of the trip but, chances are, when taking a gap year you’re going to spend quite a bit of cash. The best way to fund a gap year is to work and travel at the same time. It’s also a good idea to plan trips independently as this will cut costs dramatically – for the first time traveler this may be a little difficult and paying extra for the help of someone to do it for you might be a good idea.
PRO: It’s a great way to learn
A gap year will provide you with much more than any classroom setting ever can. We can learn a lot in the classroom, but it isn’t until we put it into practice in the real world that we really understand what’s going on. A gap year lets us learn as we do and there’s much more room for new experiences to enter our lives.
We will also learn a lot more about ourselves and who we are as people; sometimes an experience during a gap year can knock you a bit but you’ll learn just how much you can deal with when you really have to. Whether volunteering, studying, or just traveling, you're bound to learn a ton.
CON: It can be stressful
Booking vaccinations, getting tickets and insurance, visas and accommodation sorted; all this and the adventure hasn’t even begun. It does get easier as you get used to life on the road but there will always be situations that will test your stress levels to the max.
Planning independently can be tough, whether it’s language barriers, currency, or trying to work out the public transport systems, so sometimes it’s good to kick back, spend a little more and let someone else do the hard work. Doing formalized programs are a great way to get situated and meet like-minded folks. Just be sure read reviews first!
PRO: You'll look after yourself
Some people might put this in the cons list; who wants to look after themselves if they can rely on Mom and Dad to help them out? But the truth is we’ve all got to stand on our own two feet at some point and the sooner we can learn how to do this the better. Going on a gap year can also help us get used to life on a budget, which is great preparation for college.
CON: There's the potential to waste a lot of time
Many people think their trip will begin as soon as they finish school and kind of just wait for things to happen. This is not the case - as soon as the decision to have a gap year is made, the planning and saving needs to begin. If this is done then the gap year really can begin as soon as the school year is finished.
However, by not planning carefully many people find weeks and months passing by before they can even step onto that first plane.
PRO: It’s a break from traditional education
Many people who enter college straight from school regret their choice of course within the first two years. Taking a break from education and going away for a while gives us the chance to really consider what the right course is. Not only this, but a gap year can provide a renewed vigor for study and a more focused approach to learning.
CON: You're no longer a student
It’s a pretty big deal, going from school into the real world. It can be a big shock getting used to this new way of life. Many people prefer to take this transition a little more slowly by studying or doing an internship abroad.
PRO: You'll learn a new language
There’s no better way to learn a new language than to live in the country that speaks it. Being immersed in a foreign language means that all of the new words that are learned can get put into practice straight away. People who live in native speaking countries of their target language are able to pick up the basics much faster than people who stay at home. You'll be a foreign language pro in no time!
CON: Um.. wait... What's that?? There are MORE pros than cons?
Don't stop reading quite yet, you adventurous, you!
PRO: It doesn’t have to be a year
A gap year can be as short or as long as people want them to be. Some choose to take some time out, get a job and save some cash before heading off, this way they can have a great experience without worrying too much about their funds. Others want a longer time away and leave as soon as they have a feasible amount - this means they’re always watching what they spend but they’re able to travel longer and fit more in. Most people who travel this way will find work abroad to fund their trip.
PRO: You'll become more mature
People who take gap years often report that their family and friends say ‘you’ve changed’ when they return home, but it’s never in a bad way. A gap year introduces a person to so many new ideas and experiences it’s probably impossible not to change in some ways. Taking a gap year can put you in situations that many people (who never leave their own country) will never face.
Will You Take a Gap Year?
There’s no denying that spending time abroad will enhance your resume, give a young person valuable new skills and ensure the experience of a life time. The advantages of a gap year can't be touted enough. But, a gap year is not for everyone and there are other things you can consider -- especially for individuals who are new to traveling, the gap year disadvantages may present huge stumbling blocks.
Whatever you choose, remember that any time spent traveling abroad will be life-changing. Also, just do it. No, seriously. This is that "sign" you've been waiting for.
Exploring your gap year options? Don't miss USA Gap Year Fairs every winter! These free, public events are held in 40+ cities across the country to provide a broad exposure to gap year options and connect prospective gap year students, parents, gap year organizations, educators, experts, and alumni. Register for a fair near you at usagyf.eventbrite.com.