Traditionally, the practise of taking a year off between school and university, or “gap year,” has been used as an opportunity for personal development, opening the mind to new experiences, or just for bumming around a foreign country for a few months of fun and adventure.
In recent years, however, in an obvious effort by the adults of the world to suck the joy out of literally everything, gap year has evolved from an educational respite into a virtual extension of the education experience. Far from being a year off, gap year is now being used to seek work experience, build on academic skills, and basically serve as an additional stepping stone into the university experience.
In fact, perhaps in the spirit of “if you can’t beat them join them,” many universities have actually instituted gap year programmes of their own to help students best take advantage of the experience. In some cases, there might even be financial assistance available. All of which begs the question, if it’s a university program meant to enhance your education complete with financial assistance, can it really be called a gap year? Or has it evolved into an added extension of the university experience? We’ll leave that for you to decide.
While you ponder such philosophical conundrums, let’s take a look at the kinds of things one might do during this reimagined gap year.
1. Get Your Professional Feet Wet
There are few things more depressing than the idea of going through the rigors and stresses of university on your chosen course and then discovering once it’s all through that you can’t stand being a lawyer, or an engineer, or whatever it is that you just spent so much time and money to become. Wouldn’t it be nice to discover this fact before all that time is wasted?
A vocational gap year does just that. By taking a vocational gap year, you get the opportunity to step into the wading pool of your chosen career, so to speak. You get a hands-on peek into exactly what it’s like to be a/an (insert career here).
What kind of hours can you expect to work? What do you actually do on a day-to-day basis? What kind of people can you expect to deal with?
You could end up discovering that your chosen path is not what you expected it to be, and that’s alright. Better to find out now, before you go to university, while you still have time to discover what is right for you. Ideally, though, you’ll find the experience to be inspiring, and you’ll begin university with a unique perspective on your studies that propels you to work even harder to reach your goals..
Another great way to keep yourself busy, gain some real-world experience, and do some good an added bonus is to volunteer. This can mean travelling overseas with an international agency to teach children, help build shelters, or otherwise assist those in need. Or it could involve volunteering locally to deliver hot meals to the elderly, work on a political campaign, or help coach a youth sports team.
Whatever you choose to do, volunteering can help you feel more connected to your local or international community while also teaching you many useful skills that will fill out your future resume quite nicely. But most importantly, you get to help others and support causes that you care about and believe in.
3. Grow Up
We don’t mean that in the way you might hear it from the grumpy old codger down the street after you’ve accidentally stepped on the corner of his well-tended lawn. But, as a young adult just out of school and preparing for university, you’ve most likely had the majority of your basic care and feeding taken care of thus far in your life. Things like cooking your meals, doing your laundry, managing a bank account, and other basic adult activities may well have simply not been necessary skills for you to master up to this point.
Once you’ve moved on to university, however, they’ll be quite useful to have, and gap year is the perfect time to learn them, so you can step into university life more confidently, and you don’t find that you’re struggling to feed and clothe yourself while also studying for exams.
Mastering the skills of being an adult can begin as simply as:
- Helping out in the preparation of a few meals a week for your family, and when you’re feeling confident enough, handling some of those meals on your own
- Learning the ins and outs of the washer and dryer, and then taking responsibility for your own laundry
- Taking on a part-time job to earn at least some of your own spending money
- Opening a bank account to manage your income and expenditures in a responsible way
Any skill of adulthood that you can absorb now is just one less thing to worry about learning as you navigate the complexities of your university course work. You’ll gain confidence, lessen your dependence upon others, and feel good about beginning to take some control of your own life.
4. Move Beyond the Familiar and Comfortable
Unless you’re part of a family that travels a lot, your experience of people and the world has probably been limited to a smallish circle of friends and family. Depending upon where you choose to attend university, you’re going to encounter a varying degree of diversity in the people you meet, live, and work with. For some this is a refreshing, eye-opening experience, while for others it can be a bit of a culture shock.
If you’re in the latter group, gap year can be a great opportunity to expand your horizons by travelling to new places, meeting new people, and getting the culture shock out of the way on your own terms.
The fact of the matter is that moving on to university is going to be a big change from everything you’ve come to be familiar with to this point. How comfortable that transition is will depend greatly upon your own personality as well as on your history with prior new experiences or major life changes.
Gap year may be the big life change you need to inoculate you against the even bigger ones still to come.
5. Window Shop
A recurring theme of this article is that gap year is a good time to do or try things that you’ve not done or tried before, and this applies not only to areas of personal development or the expanding of your cultural horizons. It applies to your educational aspirations as well.
Suppose you’ve chosen to pursue a career as an engineer, but you’ve always enjoyed maths as well. Through gap year or summer school programs, you can seize the opportunity to dabble in subject areas that you may have never studied before, but have harbored a secret interest in.
Just as a vocational gap year can help show you that your chosen course may not actually be the one for you, taking the chance to study unfamiliar topics can help indicate whether another course holds more interest for you than you thought.
6. Get a job
It may seem pedestrian after some of the other options we’ve covered, but whether it’s exciting or not, the truth is that a year spent living at home, working, and saving money can be one of the most valuable ways to spend your gap year.
Some advantages of this gap choice are:
- The ability to take the time necessary to maintain the knowledge you’ve gained in school, either through informal textbook review or in a more formal university sponsored study program
- Gaining important experience to fatten up your cv, which will help in future job search endeavors
- Earning money that will be much needed when it comes time to buy textbooks and other supplies as well as housing and all of the seemingly endless amount of expenses that accompany a university education.
Getting a gap year job may not be the most romantic choice, but the peace of mind gained by starting university with a full bank account may make it one of the best choices you could make.
7. Enjoy Yourself
Whatever choice you make as to how to spend the bulk of your gap year, remember that this experience, at this time of your life is something that you’ll never have the opportunity for again. Yes, it’s certainly important and advisable to not let it undermine or sabotage the hard work you’ve done in school. And yes, it can be an invaluable opportunity to expand on that work and enhance your upcoming university experience.
But don’t let such admonitions blind you to the fact that you’re young, you’ve got a lot of hard work behind you and even more ahead of you, and you deserve to take time for yourself. The gap year may have evolved into a quasi-extension of the university experience, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be enjoyable as well as fulfilling. In other words, have some fun!
Don’t Lose Ground
You’ve probably heard of summer learning loss. It’s what happens when you take off for summer break, and when you return to your studies, your brain has misplaced some of what you’d learned before you left. Well, summer holiday is only six weeks, what do you think will happen to your hard-earned knowledge over a 12-month gap year?
While a break from studying might seem just the thing after the whirlwind of study and exams that mark the end of school, it’s also true that you worked hard to acquire all of that knowledge. It’s going to serve you well once you begin at university. It’s in your best interests to make sure you retain as much as possible.
No matter what you choose to do with the bulk of your gap year, be sure to take some time, either through a formal summer study program or by simply taking time out to review a text book or two on your travels. The knowledge you retain as a result is knowledge you won’t have to relearn once you return to your formal education. You might even gain some knowledge along the way, and that can only be a good thing. Don’t let a gap year create a gap in your knowledge.