After so many years in the same drab school buildings, a gap year can provide a change in environment—whether in a work office or a different country—to help you clarify what you do and don’t want to achieve in the future.
After thirteen years of stuffing your brain with grammar, numbers, science, and who knows what else (well, hopefully you do!), school leavers need some serious R&R. Unfortunately, it’s also time to figure out what comes next—at least in the immediate future. Even if you’ve got a solid idea of the career path you’d like to take, it’s a decision many feel pressure to get right, right away.
If you know exactly what course you want to study, don’t feel too burnt out by school, and want to stay in the study mindset, then rolling straight into university or vocational study is a natural step and that’s great. But what if you want an extended break from the books, or want to explore and gain some different life skills before enrolling?
Let’s get something straight: a gap year is not necessarily a vacation, even though travel often plays a part, nor does it have to last all year. You might spend the full year working, travelling, or doing both on a ‘working holiday’. You could take a short-term mission trip, or volunteer in a greater capacity with a local church or charity back home. You can take a short holiday before applying for mid-year entry at a university. The options are endless.
A gap year is taking time off with a purpose to see new places, earn money, learn life smarts, gain independence, build relationships and/or, most importantly, avoid burnout.
Whatever you choose to do, a gap year gives your brain a rest from studying and allows you to learn in different ways. You meet new people and build connections. You learn how to live away from home, or how to budget. You experience a workplace environment … the list goes on, and all these things look great on your resumé when you apply for jobs or future study.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
If you want to take a gap year so that you can laze around watching Netflix and eating chips, that is not a good motivation (and it will not reflect well on your resumé in years to come). Similarly, if you have good intentions but don’t make any plans to use the time productively, you’ll waste it. You know those evenings where you get stuck watching video after video on YouTube, then wonder where all the time has gone? It’ll be like that, but for a whole year. Yikes!
Here are some good questions to ask yourself.
Do you have the focus, discipline, maturity, and academic preparation to take advantage of one of the most crucial transition periods in your life? Are you ready to succeed in higher learning now? Rather than asking yourself ‘where’ you want to go, or ‘what’ you want to study or do, why are you passionate about this idea? Why do you want to spend the next year at university/vocational training/apprenticeship/gap year?
If, after answering these questions, praying, and doing some research, you have decided that you are still keen to take a gap year, the next hurdle—and sometimes the hardest—will be getting your parents to share your vision.
Get Your Parents On-Board
There are two main concerns that parents have about you taking a gap year: whether it will waste your money, and whether it will hinder your career progression. They don’t want to see you struggle in years to come. However, it is also (more) costly to rush into a university degree for the sake of it, when you have no clear goals about what you want to get out of studying. Many universities have alarmingly high first-year dropout rates, and now actively encourage prospective students to defer, take a gap year, and begin studying when they are ready.
Show your parents that you are passionate about this next stage; come prepared to the discussion with thorough research about the steps you will need to take and how you are going to afford your plans. If you can impress upon them the life skills and experiences you want to get out of the year, and how they will benefit your future study or full-time work, that’s a good first step. If you intend to study in the future, you can apply and defer your course to prove you are serious. If your plans involve travelling alone, it is natural that your parents may be hesitant. You need to prove that you are responsible and have thought through the safety concerns.
Be prepared to compromise. For example, instead of travelling to Europe for six months, you could explore New Zealand, Australia, or the Pacific Islands for two months. Rather than travelling solo, could you link up with a tour? If you are asking your parents for financial assistance and they do not want to lend or give you any money for your gap year, respect their decision and have a plan of how to fund it on your own.
God in the Gap Year
Rest is something that the Bible encourages: in Matthew 11:28, we’re told ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. From a faith perspective, a gap year can also be a time to listen to God and let him make clear the path he has planned for you.
There is no way to know the future. You cannot predict what the job market will be like in three, four, or five years when you finish your degree. You can’t predict which industries will boom, and what skills will be most in demand. However, a well-rounded person who is good at their job will always be in demand. If you think God is leading you towards a gap year, you can afford it, and you honestly believe that it will help you to become a more mature person, then go for it.