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Should You Take a Gap Year Before University?

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: May 12, 2023

As high school seniors approach graduation, the question of what to do next can be daunting. For many, the idea of jumping straight into university can feel overwhelming, and they may be wondering if taking a gap year is the right choice for them. In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of taking a gap year before university, as well as some tips for making the most of this time. 

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is a period of time, typically taken after high school and before starting university, during which an individual takes a break from formal education to pursue other interests. This could involve working, volunteering, travelling, or a combination of these activities. Gap years can last anywhere from a few months to a full year, and are becoming an increasingly popular option for young people around the world.

Reasons to Take a Gap Year Before University

There are many reasons why someone might choose to take a gap year before starting university. One of the most common reasons is the opportunity for personal growth and development. This can come in the form of learning new skills, gaining a better understanding of oneself, and building self-confidence. For example, someone who volunteers with GVI’s marine conservation program in Thailand may come away with a newfound appreciation for environmental conservation and a sense of pride in their ability to contribute to a meaningful cause.

Another reason to take a gap year is the opportunity to gain work experience or volunteer in a field of interest. This can help someone to build their resume and explore potential career paths before committing to a particular course of study. GVI offers a wide range of volunteer programs in areas such as wildlife conservation, community development, and education, providing an opportunity for individuals to gain valuable experience in a variety of fields.

Exploring passions and interests is another common reason for taking a gap year. With no academic pressures, individuals can take the time to pursue hobbies and interests they may not have had time for before. For example, someone who has always been interested in learning a new language could spend their gap year volunteering with GVI’s language immersion programs in Costa Rica or Peru, gaining fluency in Spanish while also experiencing a new culture.

Cultural immersion and language learning can also be a major draw for those considering a gap year. Through travel and volunteering, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of other cultures and broaden their perspective. GVI’s volunteer programs offer opportunities to work alongside local communities and learn from their unique customs and traditions, allowing volunteers to gain a more nuanced understanding of the world around them.

Potential Challenges of Taking a Gap Year

While there are many benefits to taking a gap year, there are also potential challenges to consider. One of the biggest challenges is the cost. Taking a year off from school means foregoing a year of potential income, and gap year activities can be expensive. However, there are ways to minimise costs, such as choosing low-cost volunteer programs like GVI’s community development program in Nepal, which provides affordable accommodation and meals.

Another challenge is the difficulty of readjusting to academic life after a year away. It can be tough to transition back to a structured academic environment after a year of freedom and independence. However, with proper planning and support, it is possible to make a smooth transition. GVI’s pre-departure training and post-program debriefings help volunteers to prepare for their experience and reflect on their personal growth, making the transition back to academic life a little easier.

Social isolation from peers who are starting university is another potential challenge. It can be tough to watch friends move on to university while you are taking a gap year, and it can be easy to feel left behind. However, there are ways to stay connected with peers, such as planning visits home or staying in touch through social media.

Pressure to conform to societal expectations of following a traditional education path can also be a challenge. There may be pressure from family or friends to go straight to university, and it can be difficult to go against the norm. However, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education and that taking a gap year can be a valuable opportunity for personal growth and exploration.

How to Make the Most of a Gap Year

To make the most of a gap year, it’s important to set clear goals and expectations. This could involve identifying specific skills or experiences you want to gain, or setting goals for personal growth and development. GVI’s volunteer programs provide a structured and supportive environment for achieving these goals, with experienced staff members and comprehensive training and support.

Staying engaged and motivated during the year is also crucial. This could involve staying connected with peers and family, journaling or reflecting on personal growth, or seeking out new challenges and experiences. GVI’s programs offer a range of activities and excursions, allowing volunteers to experience new things and stay engaged throughout their gap year.

Preparing for the transition back to academic life is another important consideration. This could involve researching university options and courses, preparing for standardised tests, or seeking out resources and support for adjusting to academic life. GVI’s post-program debriefings help volunteers to reflect on their experience and identify how they can apply their new skills and experiences to their future goals.

In conclusion, taking a gap year before university can be a valuable opportunity for personal growth, exploration, and skill-building. While there are potential challenges to consider, with proper planning and support, a gap year can be a transformative experience. Through volunteering with GVI’s programs, individuals can gain valuable skills and experiences while making a meaningful contribution to communities and causes around the world. Ultimately, the decision to take a gap year is a personal one, and it’s important to make an informed decision based on individual needs and goals.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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