There are many reasons why someone may decide to take a year out from education. Someone may choose to do this simply as a break from studying and exams, some because they have not yet decided their future plans and need another year to decide, whereas some may have decided but need a year off to earn some money to live off at university. In short it is impossible to pinpoint one argument as to why or why not to take a gap year as everyone’s situation is unique. However, having been through the same decision process and following that of my friends and siblings I shall try and make some helpful comments for those who are sitting on the gap year fence.
In my academic year at school the recent university fee changes played a large part in everyone’s decisions as to whether or not to take a year out. We, as sixth formers, could either choose to go straight from school to university as the last year with the lower fees or to take a gap year and embrace the new £9,000 university fees. Understandably, when these new fees were published one by one my peers abandoned their gap year plans and applied to go to university that September. I however decided to stick with my plans, which were quite far in motion by that point, take a gap year and deal with the expensive consequences. I admit that this is a decision I still may come to regret when I have to start paying off the vast student loan in a few years’ time! Never the less my reasoning at the time was that I had had a timetable crammed with essays, deadlines and exams for the past few years and was not ready to commit to another four without a break. Inevitably my course would take me into a job – when else would I have this opportunity? I also felt that although it was financially sensible to go straight to university it was not the end of the world if I paid the higher as every year below would have to do. Therefore with my gap year planning underway and with a place at university that following year I stuck with my plans of taking a gap year.
So those were my motives for taking a gap year but as I said everyone is different and will have different reasons why or why not to take a year out. I would say, on a general note that if you feel that you are not ready to go to university and embrace the prospect of cooking for yourself, budgeting and finding the right balance between work and social then a gap year is a great time to mature into a person who will get the most out of university. On the contrary, some people may feel that they are ready and excited to get stuck into university life and therefore there is no reason to delay Freshers for another year. Of course if you are someone who knows exactly what they want out of life with your degree and career path all planned out then again there is no reason to delay. However, if you are someone who has left school unclear as to what their next life step should be then a gap year is a fantastic opportunity to go out and get some real life experience, try new things, meet new people and develop a completely new perspective on your future. Of course there are a number of other questions to ask yourself when making this decision. Can I afford it? Making plans is one thing but being able to raise enough money to put them into action is a completely different story, especially with it becoming harder and harder to find a job these days. One year is a long time – have I got enough planned to make it worthwhile? Do I mind being a year older than my peers at university? As I keep saying everyone is different and everyone’s response to these questions will differ too.
If you do decide to put your studies on hold and take a year out where you are in full control then there really is a wealth of opportunities out there to get stuck into. I personally chose three very different experiences over the six months I was away however they were all in the south of India. The first two months I spent working with a team of 5 friends in an orphanage, the next 6 weeks I travelled on with one of these friends and the last 10 weeks I partook in an expedition led by the charity Raleigh International. Going on an expedition like Raleigh is a great way to get stuck into another culture and learn so much about another country as well as having a positive impact on local communities. Working in groups of people from England and all over the world makes it tremendous fun and a great option for someone who wants to volunteer but finds the prospect of going it alone daunting. There are number of these organisations offering different experiences for different lengths of time in different places round the globe. To name a few there is TrekFORCE, GVI or AV Venture. Working at the orphanage sat in complete opposition to this experience as there was no organisation or large group of volunteers to work alongside. Instead we were very much left to choose to do as much (or as little) as we wanted. This therefore made it a much more challenging experience as we had to find out where our help was most needed, throw ourselves into anything and everything we could and work around the often changing daily schedule! We spent the time teaching English, painting classrooms, running activities and playing with the children. Leaving the orphanage to travel up the west coast of India really was great fun and a time when I could do what I wanted after the selflessness that was required at the orphanage. Many people choose to travel during their gap years and with backpacks, one-way tickets, other travellers and various problems arising on the way it is definitely an experience that will bring back many stories!
Unfortunately I can only give some insight as to my personal experiences but there really so many opportunities out there with ski seasons, opportunities to be a Gap Student in a school at home or abroad, treks and language courses. Although I cannot believe that anyone really ‘finds themselves’ on their gap year I would not deny that it is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, become more independent, see some of the world and challenge yourself in completely new and different ways.