Whether you’re paddling up the Amazon in kayak, working a bar in East London or skiing the snowfields of Japan, the thought of taking a gap year is pretty damn exciting. But some worry that taking a year off studying isn’t the most sensible option, especially after you’ve worked so hard during those 13 consecutive years of schooling.

If you’re tossing up whether or not to take a gap year, you’ve gotta get the facts, if only to reassure your parents that it’s a good idea.

Research shows a gap year is beneficial to university studies…

Students who defer for a year after high school perform better at university than those who enter straight from school, according to research from Sydney University. The study, published in 2013, followed the results of 904 Australian students across a range of academic backgrounds, including science, social science and arts.

While parents are often concerned that a gap year is simply a self-indulgent distraction, the researchers describe it as something that builds “momentum” for academic endeavours.

“For many students, a gap year is about crystallising their decision-making; developing… self-regulation skills, broadening their competencies and self-organisation,” said Andrew Martin, the lead researcher of the study.

What that means is that gap years generally help us mature and become more self-aware. They provide us with an opportunity to make our own decisions and to see first hand whether those decisions were good or bad.

regret

If you think about it, it actually seems pretty obvious that a gap year is beneficial to university results. Though a gap year we gain confidence, learn new languages, find new purposes and gain a greater understanding of global issues. For many, it’s our first opportunity to make very real world decisions about where to go, what to do and how to organise our life. And when we return, we’ve got more responsibility for ourselves and thus – hopefully – more ownership over our studies. All these factors translate to better academic performance = better grades overall.

Plus, gap years aren’t just an exercise in self-indulgence. Many people find themselves volunteering and working during a gap year – positively contributing to the environments around them.

There’s always a ‘but’…

Yep, gap years are great, but that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily right for everyone. The researchers warn that better results don’t apply to all students and that there could be other associated factors that improve academic performance. For example, those who take a gap year often come from higher socio-economic backgrounds, which statistically, is an indicator for better scholastic results. Another theory is that students who aren’t likely to do well at university won’t return after a gap year. By that logic, a gap year weeds out some students, leaving only the most dedicated.

While studies like this one are interesting, we need to make considerations that go beyond statistics. Namely, is a gap year right for me?

You could go straight to uni without taking a gap year and still do exceptionally well. And it’s not impossible to undertake a gap year only to fail university miserably.

The choice is really up to you and what you want to achieve and experience in your life.

photo cred: Samuel Martin