To a lot of people, taking a gap year sounds like the perfect way to finish high school. But like most perfect things, we get tricked into thinking it’s unattainable. We dwell on all the reasons why it could go wrong–what if it fucks up our future? How do we afford it? What happens if we get homesick? Of course, these are natural responses to such a huge decision, but they are easily quelled once you look into the actual benefits of a gap year. Here are the best reasons why you should go.
Recent statistics show that only 66% of students finish their degrees within six years. This includes students who have dropped out, changed courses or extended their degree to part-time study–all possible signs of academic burn out.
Even Harvard acknowledges the increased academic pressure placed on this generation of students and encourages taking a gap year. After 13 consecutive years of schooling, it’s okay to take some time off before jumping back into study.
The biggest fear surrounding gap years is that once you get back, you’ll be turned off studying and instead live a vagrant life, forever searching for the next adventure. This is simply not true, and research has shown that students who take a year off perform better at university than those that go straight from high school.
Gap years give young people an opportunity to mature, make real life decisions, and see the consequences of those decisions. When they return to studying they’ve done so because they’ve chosen, not because it was expected of them, and they’re keen to make the most of that choice.
The school environment is a nurturing one, but it can also be a bit of a bubble. You’re sheltered from a multitude of real world responsibilities and many students struggle to adjust once they graduate. During a gap year, students take on a lot of these responsibilities for the first time and learn a bunch of life skills along the way, such as becoming financially independent, organising trips and itineraries, managing your daily routine, and just generally taking care of yourself. When you’re back at uni, you’ll find yourself miles ahead of your peers in these areas.
Not every gap year needs to involve travelling, and realistically most of us will have to spend some of our time off working. For many, this will be the first time joining the workforce–at least in a full-time capacity.
It’s a necessary step to funding any travel you might do, but there’s also a unique opportunity to set yourself up financially for the next year of studying. Saving some of your earnings means you won’t have to work as much during the semester, or you may even choose to pay tuition fees upfront, relieving some pressure for you in the future.
Only 71% of graduates land themselves a full-time job straight out of uni, so students are forced to find other ways to stand out in the competitive graduate job market. Travelling is one of these ways, as employers are starting to value the improved communication skills and ability to adapt to new environments that people learn when in new countries.
Taking a gap year where you stay in the same country for a while gives you the chance to pick up the local language fairly well. Living somewhere where you actively have to use the language to get by in everyday life is infinitely more useful than any textbook, tonnes more fun, and most importantly- conversation is free.
At the end of the day, the biggest reason to go on a gap year is simply because it’ll make you happier, and happiness is an important–yet scarce–resource for students. Mental health issues are taking their toll on young people, and with the increased pressure to succeed comes a paralysing fear of anything that goes against conventional standards of success.
Go buy that plane ticket, work your ass off to save, drink beer in foreign countries, wake up in unfamiliar places, watch the sunrise, and find your happiness. You’ve earnt it.