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Should I Take a Year Out? Opposing Views of the Gap Year Spectrum

By Blanche Delany

Last updated: 23rd August 2012

With the release of A-level results last week comes the inevitable debate over gap years; are they gaining in popularity, or are fewer students opting to take a year out thanks to the looming student debt they face at University and a consequent attitude that spending a year travelling is not a feasible option to the student. Is it a worthwhile option? Will you actually gain anything from it?

To help you decide if a gap year’s worthwhile, here’s a list of 5 potential reasons to take a gap year, taking the positives and negatives into consideration- see what you agree with.

#1 – A Gap Year can boost your CV

A gap year is the prime opportunity to get involved with something that will make your personal statement shine or your CV stand out to future employers. Depending on what career you intend to pursue, a gap year is the ideal time to gain first-hand experience in your chosen field. So if you’re hoping to teach, get your TEFL (teach English as a foreign language) qualification and work in an under-funded school in Africa or Asia, if you want to work with children why not volunteer in an African orphanage or become an au pair in America, or if you’re interested in the environment then work on a rainforest or endangered animal conservation project in South America.

Whichever way to decide to spend your time, its never been easier to tailor you gap year to suit your future career path. Not only that, but all these possibilities will help to enhance skills that could otherwise be missed; you’ll gain valuable experience of a working environment, build on your personal communication skills and improve your confidence, all while achieving a greater sense of independence. 

But let’s be honest, there remains quite a high proportion of 18 year olds who, faced with a year of freedom and travelling might not achieve anything that will wow potential employers. They want to relax and enjoy themselves, and in all honesty who can blame them, but it’s all about balance. Many young people simply flock to warmer climes to lie on beaches and maybe visit a couple of temples, chilling out with their friends and generally having a great time, but not achieving anything noteworthy for their CVs.

However, we should bear in mind that they have (in many cases at least) spent the past 6 months or so working and saving at home to fund this trip to exotic countries. In which case, they have already been developing their work ethic and skills so who are we to grudge them a holiday?


#2 – Do something worthwhile

Contrary to popular belief, a gap year does not simply entail lounging around on a beach waiting for the experiences to come to you. Young people are increasingly pro-active when it comes to taking a year out; spent wisely, a gap year can give you an edge over your peers that will be highly beneficial to you in the long term.

There are a huge variety of activities that you can get involved with during your gap year. From gaining your TEFL qualification and working in a community school, volunteering at an animal conservation sanctuary or in a medical centre, or giving essential childcare in an orphanage, there is the opportunity to push yourself in areas which you may have never explored.

But then again, time flies when you’re having fun! If you plunge into your gap year knowing that you’re not the most organised person and you only have a very vague idea of something you might do or have always fancied that you’d be rather good at, then there’s a high chance that nothing will come of it. So here’s the golden advice- PLAN. Decide exactly what you want to achieve during the year (which, when you put it into context isn’t really that long). Whether you’re going to do it independently or through an organisation make sure you set yourself a clear timeframe in which to get things organised and stick to it.


#3 – Gain a global perspective

In an increasingly globalised world, experiences of living, working or volunteering abroad provide young people with a true insight into the diversity of cultures and people across the world. Through fully experiencing another country, you will gain increased understanding of the social, environmental and political forces that influence our existence, and can consequently enhance and develop values and attitudes that enable a greater global understanding.

This is a skill that will only ever be valuable, emphasising the beneficial aspects of your year out. In terms of future employment, most large companies and organisations have a worldwide presence, and it’ll be really useful to have personal awareness and understanding of the links between our lives and those of people across the world.

However, while it’s difficult to spend a prolonged time in a foreign country and not gain an increasingly globalised perspective, it is possible. Don’t pass up opportunities to see the authentic, non-tourist side of the country- understanding the contrast (or similarities) between lifestyles is all part of the travelling experience and is something to be embraced, not shied away from. 


#4 – Appreciate a new culture

Immersion in a new cultural sphere gives young people the opportunity to empathise and learn from different ways of life. Appreciating the diversity and range of countries is a hugely advantageous experience that should not be passed up. From tasting new foods, picking up new languages and observing different social customs, the opportunity to live in a contrasting cultural lifestyle to your own can be an eye opening experiencing. 

However, the danger of taking a gap year is that rather than experiencing the authentic culture of a country, backpackers will follow the well-trodden tourist routes between cities and beaches that have become a watered down example of the real culture. Instead, places are trying to draw in the tourists, offering a westernised experience of the country in a hope that it will tempt in the British and American travellers. Hate to break it to you, but a Full Moon Party? That’s not a customary Thai tradition.


#5 – See the world & experience new surroundings

Experiencing a completely new environment will broaden your personal horizons and travelling experiences, allowing you to grow as an individual and get a taste of the freedom of the wider world. A gap year is not only a chance to do something worthwhile and beneficial, but also to spread your wings and enjoy new experiences in your life that you have yet had the chance to. What’s more, being based in a foreign country can help you to develop or enhance any language skills that you may have; be that Spanish, Chinese or Hindi, being able to state language skills on your CV can give you a strong advantage over your peers.


However pessimistic you may be about gap years, and whether or not you agree that they’re worth the expense, there is no denying that they offer a true taste of freedom and independence that students who have just completed school will not have experienced before. Living in a distant country away from family and home comforts will undoubtedly change the characters of young people, providing the ideal opportunity for them to spread their wings and get a taste of the wider world. And whichever way you look at it, this can only be a good thing.

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