A gap year is a dedicated period of time, often taken by young adults, where you take a break from your normal job or academia and instead pursue growth through experiences. Gap years often involve international travel, working holidays, volunteering, or internships.
However, domestic gap years are also becoming increasingly common and many find they can achieve the benefits of a gap year without leaving their country or local area. No matter what you choose to dedicate your time to, it is important to understand the pros and cons of a gap year before setting off on your adventure.
✅ PRO: The skills you'll gain can help your resume stand out
A gap year provides the opportunity for you to develop valuable skills that can't be learned in the classroom. Cultural awareness, organization, independence, and increased confidence are just some of the skills that are gained by taking a year out. According to the Gap Year Association Data and Benefits, gap year alumni also report higher job satisfaction.
❌ CON: You'll be ‘pausing’ your studies or traditional job for a year
As your friends immediately move on to college, or to their next semester, or your colleagues have another year of ‘climbing the ladder,’ it is important to recognize the opportunity cost associated with taking intentional time off. What you spend your time doing during your gap year, however, can quickly make up for the apparent ‘time lost’ as you are still learning, growing, and working towards your goals, just through new and exciting means.
✅ PRO: You'll meet new people and gain a broader perspective
A gap year will push you out of your comfort zone and day-to-day activities, which will inherently put new people into your life. Whether it's through cultural immersion in another country or volunteering locally, the more people you meet the more you will learn about humanity and yourself.
❌ CON: You might get homesick
A feeling most travelers experience at some point, homesickness is the emotional ‘pain’ experienced when away from your family, friends, pets, and overall safety net. If your gap year involves international travel, taking care of your mental health and recognizing if and when you need help is important.
Many gappers are new to solo travel, and the same challenges and discomfort that forces growth also come with hard times and a barrage of emotions. Missing family, friends, or simply home comforts is completely natural during a gap year, and doesn't make it any less meaningful, so don’t be afraid to experience the hard times as well as the good ones.
✅ PRO: You'll gain stories through new experiences
Experiential learning is a key component of making the most out of a gap year, and after spending a year away the stories will mount up; these can be great conversation starters during a job interview, a fun way to connect with people at parties or, simply just to look back on and remember. Journaling is a great way to not lose track of the memories you're making throughout your gap year, as well as reflect on the lessons those experiences provide.
❌ CON: There are financial and personal risks.
With every decision we make comes risk, and a gap year is certainly no exception. Whether it's hefty fees or general travel obstacles, like getting sick overseas, mitigating the risks through planning is a must.
One way to help alleviate some anxiety and risk is by signing up and traveling with a gap year program. There are a wide range of program options in nearly every country you’d like to gap year in, and range from volunteering to adventure travel, to language immersion and much more.
All travelers should also consider travel insurance. Travel insurance providers, like World Nomads or Safety Wing, can offer temporary and customizable options, so whether you've lost your checked luggage or a pandemic breaks out while you're abroad, you'll be protected.
For most, the benefits of a gap year far outweigh the risks, but whether that is true for you depends on your unique circumstances.
✅ PRO: Helps to avoid burnout after years of schooling or work
A gap year is a chance to be in complete control of your schedule, and invest your time in experiences that drive you. With most of us grinding through 12 or more years of school and work, taking an intentional break to travel, volunteer, or just do something new can help prevent burnout and reinvigorate the motivation needed to achieve your goals. Just because it's a break from the ordinary doesn't mean you stop working towards the future; actually, a gap year should be seen as a year on, not a year off.
❌ CON: It can be expensive
While the cost of a gap year depends on the destination, duration, program, and activities you plan to do on your trip, expenses can add up quickly. Many choose to help fund a gap year by picking up short-term employment, or through work exchange programs like WWOOF.
Generally with all trips, it's best to outline costs ahead of time and plan to stick to a budget while you're overseas. Even on a budget, this trip will still be a blast!
Read more: Most Affordable Gap Year Programs
✅ PRO: It’s a great way to learn new things, outside of your comfort zone
A gap year will provide you with lessons not found in a classroom. Whether it’s gaining real-world experience related to your studies, or chasing new experiences through travel and picking up odd jobs, a gap year lets you learn as you do by forcing you into completely new situations.
Additionally, a gap year is a time to learn more about yourself, what drives and inspires you, and grow your self-confidence. Whether you’re volunteering, working, studying, or just traveling, you're bound to learn.
❌ CON: Travel preparation can be stressful
Scheduling vaccinations, getting tickets and insurance, sorting out visas and accommodation -- all before the journey has even begun! For many, a gap year is the first introduction to solo travel, or taking on life without ‘guardrails.’ Uncertainty is often accompanied by stress, and a gap year is full of uncertainty.
Whether it’s language barriers, currency, or trying to work out the public transport systems, there are a lot of stressful situations that come with travel, but you don’t have to do it alone. Gap year programs are a great way to get situated and meet like-minded travelers. Just be sure to read reviews first!
✅ PRO: It’s a break from traditional education
Our formal schooling is a marathon, and after years of sitting in a classroom, our minds and bodies need a break. Taking time off from traditional education provides an opportunity to consider what the right course is, and if you’ll be satisfied in the career track you’re currently on. Not only this, but a gap year often provides a renewed vigor for study and a more focused approach to learning. According to the Wall Street Journal, 90% of students who take a gap year return to college the next year.
❌ CON: If you don't set goals, it could potentially waste a lot of time
When you take a break from the structure of traditional schooling or a set job schedule, it is important to be intentional with what you do with your time, or before you know it, it will be gone. To prevent wasted time, you should start planning and saving as soon as you decide to take a gap year. It may be helpful to set goals for yourself so you don’t lose track of time or miss deadlines. When dealing with international travel, things like visa applications can take time and travel becomes much more expensive if you procrastinate.
✅ PRO: You'll return home with a new sense of maturity and confidence
The pros and cons of taking a gap year all add to the opportunities to overcome challenges and grow. Taking charge of your life and how you spend your time will force you to mature, as you are solely responsible for yourself.
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 many new ideas and experiences that foster growth in a relatively short period of time.
Should you take a gap year?
If you're looking to learn new things through travel and can dedicate time to self growth and exploration, then YES, you should consider a gap year!
There’s no denying that spending time abroad will enhance your résumé, teach you valuable new skills, and grow your confidence through unique experiences. The benefits 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 or can't commit to time away from school, there may be better options, like studying abroad.
🗺️ Want to learn more about gap years, directly from the experts? Don't miss USA Gap Year Fairs! The USA GYF will provide a broad exposure to gap year options and connect prospective gap year students, parents, gap year organizations, educators, experts, and alumni.