When’s the Best Time to Take a Gap Year?

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The most common times for people to take gap yeas right after you leave high-school (or college in the UK) when you’re 18 years old, or after you finish college (or university in the UK) when you’re around 21/22 years old.

For most people, these are often the best times to take a gap year and to travel because you won’t be tied down by a job and it might be the last time in your life that you’re totally free from commitments.

After finishing school/college/university, it’s highly likely that you’ll be sick of the sight of books, and you’ll want to go out and explore the world and make the most of your newly-found freedom. Backpacking through South America or working at a ski resort in Italy (for example) are great ways to do this, as they get you out experiencing life and doing something completely different to what you’re used to.

Obviously people do take career breaks (or sabbaticals) that usually last between 6 months and 2 years, but these are seldom referred to as ‘gap years’, so I won’t include those here.

So when is the best time to take a gap year? Straight out of high-school? When you’ve finished college? Let’s take a look at the most common options and find out which is best for you…

When You’re 18

Taking a gap year straight out of high-school (in the USA) or college (in the UK) is becoming more and more popular, and there are certainly benefits to doing this.

Taking a Gap YearIf you’re planning on going to college/university, this can be a great time to take a gap year as it will give you a much needed break from working and studying, and should refresh you the challenges ahead.

One of the problems with a lot of young people these days is that they go to college/university purely because they think it’ll be fun (which it will) and also because it’s easier than getting a job. Of course, the main purpose of going to college/university should be to learn something valuable (that you have an interest in) that you can use in later life (such as learning how to create computer software). Too often do people chose their course on a whim; based on some generic assumptions, because they know someone else that did it or because it ‘sounds good’.

The problem with this is that when people go to college/university for the wrong reasons, they often don’t have the necessary motivation to finish their course and graduate, meaning you can end up spending a lot of money and getting nothing out of it at the end.

Taking a year out and going away somewhere will give you a chance to mature and for your interests to develop. It is often said that travel broadens the mind, and for young people this is especially true. Living and working in other parts of the world and experiencing other cultures will give you a greater understanding of who you are, what you like and what you want to do with your life. All of a sudden you might discover something you’re passionate about (such as art history, politics or media studies) and decide you want to study that at college/university instead of the generic course you were previously thinking about taking (that you had no real knowledge about or interest in).

One of the major downsides of taking a gap year before you go off to college/university is that it means you’ll go out of sync with all your friends that haven’t taken gap years (meaning they’ll be in their second year of college/university when you start your first year). This might not seem like a big deal (especially considering you’ll meet new friends while traveling and when you do go to college/university) but this lack of synchronicity will make friendships more difficult with people you may have known for years.

For example, while you’re on your gap year they’ll be partying at college/university. Then, as you start university they’ll be in their second year and they won’t be able to see you as much. Finally, by the time you reach your third year they’ll most likely be finish college/university and they’ll be looking for jobs. You lifestyles will be very different by this point, meaning it’s hard to find the time to meet up like you used to.

Right After You Finish College (in the USA) or University (in the UK)

If you’re 18 and have just finished high-school (in the USA) or college (in the UK) and you feel like you need a break from all the work, just wait until you’re 21/22 and you finish college/university!

The final year of college/university is often one of the most stressful and significant in a person’s life. During the last 6 months of my final year of university I worked virtually non-stop and was exhausted by the end. There would be days when I’d wake up feeling ill, but I’d simply tell myself “No! You cannot get ill! You don’t have time to be ill!” Strangely, this seemed to work, and I remained in good health until I finished my exams. This had clearly taken its toll on me, however, as after I finished my last exam I was ill for a week!

At times like this a break is often needed, and a gap year (where you go away and do something amazing) is the perfect antidote.

One of the benefits of taking a gap year after college/university is that you’ll be a lot more mature than when you were 18. It’s likely you’ll have had experience living away from home, and you’ll be a lot better at avoiding dangerous situations that could potentially occur on the road.

In addition to this, you’ll probably have a better idea of what you actually want to do on your gap year. Lots of young gappers want to take a gap year and go away somewhere, but they aren’t entirely sure where to go or what to do, so they often end up doing the obligatory tour of South-East Asia or volunteering in Ghana. There’s nothing wrong with either of these things (in fact I’d highly recommend both of them) but there’s always the chance that you might discover when you’re out there that it’s not for you and that you’d rather have done something/gone somewhere else.

The main problem with taking a gap year after college/university is that you probably won’t have any money to finance it, and with your shiny new qualification you’ll feel the undoubted pressure you’re your parents to find a job. It’s common for parents to say things like: “Why don’t you work for a year, and then take a gap year once you’ve earned some money?”

Working for a year to save up some money does seem like a good idea (and does work for some people), but once you’ve got a full-time job and become acclimatized to a certain lifestyle and earning a certain amount of money it can be very difficult to pack it all in and go off traveling the world (which is the reason you were doing it in the first place).


Related posts:

  1. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking a Gap Year
  2. Fundraising for Your Gap Year
  3. The Pros and Cons of Gap Year Organizations
  4. Gap Year Expeditions
  5. Gap Year Conservation Programs




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