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To Go or Not to Go? Part Two: Taking a Gap Year After University

By Jessica Whyte

Last updated: 1st December 2011

Are you dreaming of a get-away-from it-all gap year? Are you angling for some amazing adventures but are dithering over the do’s and don’ts? For many potential gap year travellers one of the biggest dilemmas is whether to take a gap year before or after university. If you can’t make up your mind you might be missing out on some awesome activities as you agonize over the pros and cons.

It’s natural to want to weigh up your options and make sure you make the right decision for you. There are advantages and disadvantages to taking a gap year before and after university but whatever you choose, a gap year will be one of the best life experiences you’ll ever have! A gap year is a sure-fire way of boosting your future prospects, gaining valuable skills and spicing up your CV.

Are you a recent university graduate still trying to find your way in the big wide world? Or maybe you’re in your last year of university and already thinking ahead to the next major step? Leaving university can leave you with mixed feelings; elation that you’ve made it through three years of study, excitement about graduating and having a great new qualification and fear of what the future will hold. It can be a bit of a comedown when you pack up your bags and move on to the serious world of work and responsibilities. Not everyone is ready to wave goodbye to freedom, independence and new challenges and that is why taking a gap year at this stage in your life can be the perfect transition between education and taking your first step on the career ladder.

If you’ve just left university or are in your final year, there’s every chance that you’ve already felt under pressure to decide what to do next. Every university leaver dreads that fateful question ‘so what do you want to do with your life?’ It’s not easy to go from the freedom and fun of being a student to deciding on a serious career trajectory. Unless you have done a subject-specific degree you may not yet know the exact direction you want go in when it comes to work. A gap year can be the ideal time to explore those options, whether it is trying out different paid work opportunities around the world, getting a taste of different activities with some adventure travel or learning new and exciting skills.

Even if you do know the direction you want to take in your career, these days it sadly isn’t always that straightforward. Employers in these tough economic times are often looking for some hands-on work experience and having spent three years studying, you probably won’t have had much chance to make your CV sparkle. A gap year can be spent not only seeing the world and having fun, but gaining incredible experience as a volunteer or doing some teaching or TEFL qualifications. If you have plans to do your teacher training, or even didn’t make the cut this year, getting some experience teaching abroad will make your CV rise to the top of the pile. If you want a career in the medical profession you might want to take part in a medical internship abroad and get hands-on healthcare experience. Showing that you have done paid work abroad or learnt a new language will impress potential employers and give your career prospects a major boost.

You can always choose to do some temporary work, save up and then take a gap trip. You don’t have to take a whole year of gap travel; there are great gap year taster programs that run for as short a time as two weeks to a full-on year of fun and adventures. If you are worried about university debt, don’t forget that you don’t have to start paying it back until you’re earning a decent wage. As a graduate, your earning potential will have just shot up no end, so saving money won’t take as long as you think. One way of saving up some cash is to take on paid work on your gap year: There are great options available, from working your way round Australia, to paid teaching in China and au pair internships in the U.S.A. So a gap year doesn’t have to just cost you money, it can actually make you money too!

One of the major advantages of waiting until after you have left university to take your gap year is that you are already fully independent, more confident and can stand on your own two feet. University prepares you for making independent choices and living confidently away from home, so you are better equipped at this stage to take a gap year than you might have been just after leaving school. This in turn is likely to make you more adventurous and willing to take a risk and try something new, something you might previously have been too nervous to do. Three years at university is the best preparation for doing independent travel and taking the plunge on your own. Or you might have made a group of friends at university who fancy sharing a gap year trip with you. The great thing is, graduates are all in the same boat and, to quote an old cliché, the world really is your oyster!

You will probably leave university with few commitments, no fixed work and uncertainty about where you will be going to live. As your friends start to scatter, you might decide to stay on in your university town or you night be faced with the prospect of moving back in with mum and dad. For many, this can be tough after three years doing your own thing and getting away from it all on a gap year can be the perfect way of branching out on your own again. After all, you’ve got your whole life and your career ahead of you, and taking a few months to see the world might just be the best, horizon-broadening decision you’ve ever made!

Taking a gap year after university is really just taking advantage of the natural pause in your life that occurs when your education finally comes to an end. After a lifetime of hard work, school and university study, don’t you think you deserve a well-earned gap year reward? Giving yourself something as exciting as gap travel to look forward to can spur you on in your final year, or give you a much-needed lift if you’ve left university and come crashing back to earth with a bump. As life goes on and things start to tie you down it’s less easy to jet off at a moment’s notice, so seize the opportunity while you can and get gapping!

Still not sure when to take your gap year? Check out the Gap 360 blog post To Go or Not To Go: Part One: Taking a Gap Year Before University.

Worried about careers? For further advice on gap years vs careers read our top travel advice.

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