Mind the Gap (Year)

The number and complexity of requirements that young adults are required to fulfill when they enter the labor market have only been mounting over the years. Apart from outstanding academic performance, firms have increasingly been seeking candidates with both analytical and soft skills and a multifaced personality. Although such qualities are justifiably sought after by employees, most educational systems do not diverge from their academic goals to cultivate and develop these skills. Luckily, students have started realizing the need to detach themselves from the “conventional” notion of education that so far occurs in the form of high school, undergraduate and graduate education. With this exact realization, the concept of a Gap Year was born.

A gap year refers to a 6-12-month time period during which students take a break from studying either between high school and college or undergraduate and graduate studies. During a gap year, students have the opportunity to dedicate time to explore various forms of experiential learning, leave their comfort zone and at the same time expand their horizons. The most common choice amongst those who take a gap year is to spend time travelling. While travelling, students not only visit new places and are introduced to a different way of living, but also come in contact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and thus develop a cross-cultural understanding of the world. Such an experience can prove to be really useful if an individual finds himself in a work environment where he has to cooperate with colleagues of different nationalities. Alternatively, becoming a volunteer in an international volunteering organization can combine travelling and providing humanitarian service. Volunteering programs are an excellent way to provide support to areas affected by various kinds of hardships, emphasize empathy and the interdependence of nations. Programs ranging from animal protection projects such as those organized by WWF to teaching and community work in Africa ensure that anyone interested can find the social cause they wish to contribute to. And this exactly is a major benefit of engaging in volunteering work, it can steer students in academic paths for which they are passionate about and help unsure individuals decide on their area of studies.

On the other hand, there is some skepticism surrounding the decision of taking a gap year as many argue that it distracts people from their academic careers. Some fear that a gap year may result in a student “staying behind” or that employees will disregard the legitimacy of said gap year or consider it a lack of motivation. In reality though, all the experience a person accumulates during his gap year fosters the development of a broad skillset that will, in the long run, provide this future applicant with a competitive advantage. Moreover, the surveys conducted by the Gap Year Association (GYA) in the US in partnership with various universities worldwide revealed that taking a gap year helped individuals make more certain and informed choices regarding their profession and that they were less likely to experience a “burn out” in the long run. Apart from that, students that took a gap year between high school and university demonstrated higher levels of academic performances and overall more motivation to study.

Taking a gap year surely is an important decision in a person’s life. It requires planning in advance and determination to step out of the norm and our comfort zone. There are, however, organized gap year programs run by associations and even universities that can assist students and make the planning process much easier.

It has been established that the personal and academic benefits of a gap year well spent are numerous and can significantly impact the course of one’s life. At the end of the day though, it is a personal choice and any high school or university graduate that takes a gap year should do so because it is what they want to do.

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