What Is a Gap Year? (Including Advantages and Disadvantages)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 27 September 2022

Published 8 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Taking a year away from school after graduating is becoming increasingly popular in recent years, especially since it may equip you with insights and experiences that may benefit you both academically and professionally. If you're a recent graduate or are graduating soon, you may be considering taking a year off to travel. Learning about the pros and cons of taking one can help you decide if it's the right choice for you. In this article, we discuss what a gap year is and compare its advantages and disadvantages.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a full year that someone takes either before university or right after graduating from university. Originally intended as a break, many individuals take a year off after graduating from school to discover more about themselves and the world and consider their next steps, be it their education or career path. It may differ for each individual as some may undertake paid work, an internship or volunteer at a shelter. Others may travel, such as backpacking around the world to learn about different cultures.

Some common reasons individuals are taking a year off nowadays are due to wanting a break from studying or wanting to develop and discover themselves before transitioning into their next phase of life. It gives students the chance to do some self-reflection, or earn some money to pay for their university fees.

Related: Learn How to Explain Gaps in Employment on Your Resume

What can you do during a transition year?

Gap years may be different and personalised, so your ideal one may greatly differ from someone else's. A good start may be to include various activities at different points of your year and aim to grow and discover yourself through it. No matter what you choose to do during your gap year, keep in mind that the goal for yourself is to learn from the experience.

Individuals who take a transition year typically pursue common activities such as working in an internship or part-time position, volunteering at a charity of their choice, travelling around the world or developing a skill. For example, you could learn German or how to code through a six-week online course. You could also opt to intern at a law firm as a legal assistant if you're interested in going to law school but aren't sure if it's the right path for you.

Pros of gap years

These are the benefits of taking a year off:

More self-awareness and global awareness

For individuals who've spent most of their time studying and building academic knowledge, they may not be very aware of different cultures and current issues in the world. Some may acknowledge that and decide to travel and experience various cultures during the year so that it increases their self-awareness and how their own actions impact others. Travelling also helps you to develop your self-awareness and EQ skills, so that you can better monitor and analyse how you interact with others and build better relationships.

When you travel during your year off from your studies, it can also expose you to new cultures, social challenges and perspective from others that you meet during your trips. Through these trips and experiences, not only do you learn more about cultures, you may also develop an awareness about current affairs and global events. This also helps you to get in touch with what's going on in the world that may help you in a career. They also provide you with insights and knowledge that can teach you more about yourself.

Increased confidence and independence

You may take up volunteering work, do internships or go travelling. These activities can help you meet various new people. Interacting with them can increase your confidence in speaking to crowds or starting a conversation with someone you don't know. This may be useful in your career as you can gain the confidence to speak to professionals at networking events. These experiences during your gap year can also develop your maturity and train your independence, since you're doing these activities on your own and taking on responsibilities.

Improved communication skills

If you're planning to travel around the world, you may learn and hone a foreign language. You may also develop your communication and social skills, which may help you in the workplace or in school. This can also increase your employment chances since many companies may look for candidates who are bilingual or trilingual.

If you're choosing to volunteer or find an internship, you can also improve these skills. Since these opportunities expose you to individuals with various personalities and communication styles, you learn how to communicate with them too. Such opportunities can also help to develop your interpersonal skills to build and foster good relationships with others, which may be beneficial in the workplace.

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Greater focus on your goals

When you take a transition year, you're taking the time to do something for yourself and be responsible for setting and accomplishing goals too. This helps you take ownership in various areas of your life and focus on what you desire to do, which may result in you performing better in school if you decide to pursue an academic path. It also helps you focus better on discovering what your ambitions and interests are. You may also reflect and consider your options while setting any personal or professionals goals for yourself.

Related: How to Achieve Goals in 8 Steps (With Common Benefits)

Opportunities to pursue interests

Taking a year off means you have the time to discover new interests and try them out. This may mean discovering new hobbies or passions like photography, gardening, music or other skills. Your future employer may appreciate that you have hobbies, and your skills may even be useful for your work. For example, the role you applied for might require basic photography skills.

Cons of gap years

While there may be many advantages to taking a year off, there may be some challenges too. Here are some of them:

High costs

Taking a year off from your studies may be expensive if you're travelling to many countries. The costs may come from plane tickets, accommodation and food. If you're planning on taking one, it's essential to plan ahead for all expenses that you may require and make sure you have enough money for them. Consider doing a part-time job or a temporary job to save up for the travel expenses.

Ineffective use of time

While taking a year off may help you recharge and focus on your next phase in life, it may also be ineffective if you don't plan and structure it well. If you're planning to try out different jobs to explore career options, it's essential to set goals for yourself that you can accomplish. Consider letting people you trust know about your plans and goals so that they can encourage you to pursue your goals. This helps to ensure that you don't spend your time doing activities that are not beneficial instead of achieving your goals.

Feelings of isolation

If you're the only person taking a year off in your group of friends, watching them go on to find new jobs and experiences may make you feel like you're left out. You may not relate to their shared experiences as much and feel like you're behind them in terms of career progression. While it's normal to have these feelings, it's important to remember that taking a year off may not necessarily affect your professional growth and you may also be going through similar experiences soon.

Difficulty in transitioning

If you're taking a year off, it means that you're not going to be studying or working in a professional job for an entire year. Spending a year away travelling or other activities may make it challenging to transition back to the routines and demands of work and study. To avoid this, it's essential to engage and challenge yourself regularly in various ways.

You can also spend the year learning about yourself, a culture or a new skill so that you can transition back to school or work again after the year has passed. Consider reading magazines and news about your preferred field to keep up with the latest industry trends.

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