The right - and wrong - reasons to take a gap year

Are you taking a gap year for all the right reasons? Think hard, as you won’t gain much from the experience if you’re just looking for an extended stay on a beach!

Thumbing a lift Taking a gap year is a very personal decision and depends on commitments (work, study, family) as well as finances. A lot can be gained - and lost - in 12 months, so you must be sure that choosing a gap year is the best decision for you.

Don’t follow the crowd, don’t choose it because your parents say you should and please don’t choose it because you don’t know what else to do; to get the most out of the experience you have to know you’re setting out on this adventure for all the right reasons.

Don’t choose a gap year for the wrong reasons

“The wrong reasons to take a gap year are because someone else is telling you it's a good idea or you don't know what else to do,” explains Emma Jones, author of Gap Years - The Essential Guide.

“It is a big commitment of time and money and you will only get the most out of it if you are committed to what you are doing. A gap year can widen your horizons, teach you new skills and help you learn about yourself and the world - if that sounds exciting then you are probably doing it for the right reasons.”

“It is important for a student to make an informed choice and to consider the pros and cons and make sure they also gain valuable work experience whilst travelling,” Jane McAllister, career consultant at Birmingham City University adds.

“Speak to fellow students who have been on a gap year, link up with them and see what their advice is as well as speaking to a career consultant or the student union,” she advises.

Trying a career on

It may be that you want a break from study but are unsure what to do next - that doesn’t mean a gap year isn’t for you, but that you must give real thought to what you can gain from your year out. For aspiring engineers a Year in Industry (YINI) placement can give you a chance to “try on” a job to see if it suits you, as well as giving you a chance to gain some hugely useful on-the-job experience, but you must be willing to give it your all!

“Many wish for a break from study and aren’t sure what to do next, a YINI can help with these decisions but employers will expect a dedicated capable student who is willing to learn. Without these attributes your placement may not have the desired effect,” says Chris Ward, national director of The Year in Industry.

Come back with more than a tan!

A gap year can be an opportunity to mature and gain life experience - both good reasons for looking into the options available. However it’s important that a gap year shouldn’t be viewed as an extended holiday, instead it should be an opportunity to learn useful career skills and experience new things. If you come back with a great tan but no new skills, well, that won’t do your CV any good!

“With the UK economy still in a fragile state, it is wise to take on career-enhancing opportunities, but a gap year that simply looks like a ‘year off’ is always likely to stand out on a CV and will also severely dent your bank balance,” Mark Tully, Roevin, managing director, Roevin Engineering recruitment concludes.