Taking a year off after Matric to pursue travel or work opportunities can be an incredible experience, but is it right for you? Here are 5 gap year pros and cons to help you decide.
When you leave high school, it feels a bit like reaching the end of a (12-year) tunnel and then having to check the GPS to confirm where you are, analyse which paths may lead you to your desired destination (that’s if you have one), and possibly explore if there is a scenic route.
Sounds relatively simple, but when the very GPS device you are using is powered by a combination of conflicting opinions and attitudes, it’s probably a good idea to take 5, sit back, and evaluate what the heck it is you actually want.
Work, travel, study?
I had always wanted to take a gap year after Matric. It was an endeavour that increasingly appealed to me throughout high school, and my parents greatly encouraged me to take the leap and have the experience. And that’s what I did.
To this day, I’m a loud advocate for gap years. The life skills and lessons that gap years provide are invaluable, and I feel anyone who is considering it, should go for it. Having said this, however, the decision to take a gap year after school – whether it be for work, travel, or other opportunities, does require a generous scoop of thought and research.
Many of you might be asking yourself if a gap year is the right choice for you, and if your expectations match the reality. If you’ve begun to look into the idea, you’ve probably started asking different people about it – friends, parents, teachers, or other people in your community. And it’s likely that those people have conflicting opinions on the matter.
Some people think it’s great and that travel, adventure, and a portion of culture shock is the best education ever. Others think that it’s better to first get all the academia out of the way, so you can remain in study mode and get your career going. In truth, attitudes towards gap years range from total ecstatic support to complete discouragement to utter indifference.
Yeah, that doesn’t really make any of this easier for you, does it…
The pros and cons
To hopefully make this whole decision-making process a little easier for you, here are some of the most common pros and cons of taking a gap year after school.
Since I’m proudly pro-gap years, let’s first get the cons out of the way (as reasonable as they may be), and then focus on the good stuff.
5 Gap year cons
1. It can get pricey.
Depending on where you plan to travel, tickets abroad can get very expensive. You’ll also need to sustain yourself while you are travelling. Some parents are happy to help out, but more often than not, it’s fair to expect that you finance a big part yourself, since this is your experience and choice.
2. You may not have any support.
If you are the only one in your community that thinks a gap year sounds great, it’s going to be tricky. Not impossible, but tricky. It’s much easier to go on this kind of adventure knowing you have a support system to fall back on in case you do need help – in particular family and friends are there for you no matter whether they supported your gap year or not.
3. It could interfere with your studies.
Consider the qualification you want. If it’s a very competitive degree and you get accepted, you may want to consider grabbing that opportunity right away – especially if you’ll need to study for an extensive amount of years.
Some institutions don’t accept applicants who do a gap year, unless the activities in that year relate directly to the respective field of study. Make sure you do some thorough research on this before you make your decision.
4. It may not turn out to be what you had hoped for.
Maybe you’re expecting a gap year in the Caribbean full of turquoise oceans, hammocks, and summer breezes – and then you end up with rain showers and no Wifi. But hey, that’s life. No matter what kind of gap year you have in mind, it will never be exactly what you expect (or it might even be better…).
5. You’re not necessarily going to find yourself.
This is probably the point that scares most people off. Many people think that there is a risk of it being a waste of time, or that it’s an excuse for people to deny the fact that they don’t know who they are, what they want, or what to do with themselves.
In order not to prove those people right, when you do decide to take a gap year, make sure you do something progressive and stimulating. Something that will enrich you personally, professionally and spiritually. Having a good time and chilling is fine, but at the end of the day, gap years are meant for self-exploration and growth. You will learn stacks about the person you are, even if you don’t ‘find yourself.’
5 Gap year pros
1. You can earn a buck and jack up your CV
If you end up volunteering or working during your travels, you will gain awesome experiences to kick-start your CV – interpersonal skills and international exposure are big plus points already. And if you decide to use your whole gap year just to work, not only do you gain work experience, but you’ll probably be able to save up like a boss.
For this reason, a lot of people also opt for a local gap year, working for a while before going off to study. Although gap years are generally associated with travel, it’s perfectly fine to take some time off after school to boost your CV, get ahead with work experience, and save up some moola on the side. It’s a particularly good option for those of you who need to finance your own studies.
2. You are likely to grow tremendously as a person.
There is nothing that can substitute the lessons you can learn while travelling and getting exposure to new mentalities, cultures, and ways of life. You’ll discover new parts of yourself and may even discover interests and passions you’ve never thought possible before.
3. It can help you decide what you want to do in life.
As much as a gap year can flop if you just sit around, it can also be the switch that sparks your light bulb moment. Sometimes the experiences you make during a year of travel or work can be essential in helping you decide what you want or don’t want for your future, both of which are equally important to understand.
4. It opens your mind.
The way to open your mind and become a more humble human being is not to be found in your comfort zone. That thing is deadly. By taking a gap year and visiting new places, you leave your normal, comfortable reality, and get enlightened by the fact that you’re but one pipsqueak in the world, albeit a powerful one with the ability to make the world a better place.
5. You may even find yourself.
Mind you, this does happen. You might find your true calling on your gap year. In fact, some people leave for a gap year and end up prolonging that gap for many, many years, wanting nothing more from life than to take in each precious moment and soak in as much of the world as possible. Travel is a way of life, after all.
Know what’s right for you
Remember, each gap year experience is unique and the advice you get from various people is usually based on their personal experience. It’s important to keep this in mind. You cannot rely on someone else’s experience when it comes to making your own life decisions.
Listen to opinions, do your research, and then go for what is best and right for you. You can’t fail – you can only learn, and pack your backpack full of valuable experiences.
If you’re keen on a gap year but don’t want to plan it out all on your own, you may want to check out some gap year programmes or contact agents that organise various work and travel opportunities for you – the options are endless. Check out our gap year section for more inspiration and ideas.