Is a Gap Year a good idea?

Ever considered a “Gap” year? A Gap year is one spent travelling, working, or studying abroad. This could be after high school, or before committing to graduate studies.

Gap years have been almost an expectation in the UK and Europe for many years. Now they are growing more popular throughout North America. This growth in popularity has a lot to do with a significant increase in the acceptance of the practice among some of the the most prestigious schools in North America (including Harvard Law and Princeton in the US, and McGill in Canada).

Gap years can look very different for different students. Some engage in structured programs while others work toward more personal goals. But what value do they actually have and how do you make best use of them?

Reasons Why a Gap Year is a Great Idea

Building Resilience

In his book Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in the Way the World Needs, Joseph O’Shea points to the role Gap years play in personal development. “We often develop most when our understanding of ourselves and the world around us are challenged – when we engage with people and ideas that are different”, he says. He emphasizes that by spending time in “foreign” situations, especially when in the service of others, we engage in “critical-self reflection”. This helps us build a stronger sense of our own identity and our place in the world.

Improved Interpersonal Skills

Ever tried to communicate a basic need (water, food, transport etc) with someone who can’t even write in their own language, never mind speak yours? It is amazing how quickly you learn to communicate using all your facilities (body language, the tone of your voice, your posture and facial expressions). These skills are easily transferable to life back home and will be useful throughout your career. In addition you will gain organizational and planning skills. In order to survive you will be required to figure out transportation, budgeting, directions, and navigating weird store opening times.These experiences teach you how to plan, organize and stay flexible when things don’t quite go as planned.

Finally, everyone claims on their resume that they are a good problem solver. However you really test your problem solving abilities when you travel on a shoestring, or work in a resource-starved environment. These experiences create a confidence in your own abilities to handle whatever life throws at you and self-control in the face of adversity.

Feed Your Curiosity

As Walt Disney said:

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

The overwhelming evidence presented in all of the podcasts we have distributed to date, shows that successful food professionals all have one thing in common. They are curious and creative. This is what moves them forward. A gap year fuels this curiosity.

Avoid “Burn Out”

In their final months of high school, students become so focused on the end goal (the grades and the place in college), that they may lose site of the reasons why they wanted to go to college in the first place. Depending on the requirement to work during the summer months before college, they may also be exhausted when the day finally arrives for them to head off to campus. These are not the ideal circumstances for an individual to thrive. A gap year can allow motivation, energy and purpose to return. This translates in to an ability to really take advantage of the many facets of campus life when the student returns to their studies.

Reconsider your Gap Year Plans if the Following Apply

You may never make it to Post Secondary:

A National Center for Education Statistics study identified that, among those who delay enrolling in an undergraduate program for a year or less tend to have a significantly lower likelihood of completing a degree than their peers who enroll immediately. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – University is not for everyone and maybe that extra year provides insights that allow individuals to question their initial choices.

You are Completely Broke

The same study also shows a correlation between higher levels of parental income and the frequency of gap years taken abroad. This is no coincidence. Some articles state the cost of a gap year to be as high as US $30,000. This would depend on location, opportunities to earn money while away and the activities you plan to do (kite surfing in Bondi Beach is not cheap). However, there are many opportunities for working vacations and many volunteer opportunities can be found in countries where your money will go a lot further than at home. But if ultimately your educational goals might be jeopardized by your budgetary constraints then consider whether this is the right move.

You haven’t thought it through

Make sure that you have analyzed your motives. Is your decision to travel made for the purposes of developing personally and to experience adventure? Or are you simply trying to put off starting a program that you are not actually very committed to?

Have any of our readers experienced gap years? Do you have any advice to share with someone considering the possibility?

Author: Juliette Prouse