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Since the 1970s, a common tradition for students in the UK and Ireland is to embark on a gap year before enrolling in university. Decades later, gap years are still on trend. According to reports from The Guardian, an estimated 230,000 young adults between ages 18 and 25 will take a break from their studies and coordinate a gap year adventure. (Hint: even Prince William and Harry took one).

Students pursue a gap year experience for many reasons. Some desire to be immersed in different cultures and worldviews. Others want to acquire practical skills they can use in the future. Alternatively, they may aspire to work for a meaningful humanitarian cause. While some just want time to find themselves before they take the next step into adulthood. No matter the motivation, if you’ve considered a gap year to broaden your horizons prior to university, here’s what you need to know.

What’s the Purpose of a Gap Year?

Let’s quickly dive into the history of the gap year. Sons of 17th-century British aristocrats toured Europe as a means to establish their positions in western society. Cut to present day, gap years aren’t reserved for the elite, but popular with all students, regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Taking a gap year is meant to enrich your personal growth. After which, students feel motivated, refreshed and equipped for the rigorous coursework of university.

Which locations are the most popular? According to tour company Gap Year, the hot-spot destinations for uni students taking a gap year are:

  • Thailand, Asia
  • Australia, South Pacific
  • Malaysia, Asia
  • New Zealand, South Pacific
  • Tanzania, Africa
  • Peru, South America
  • United States, North America
  • Vietnam, Asia
  • Fiji, South Pacific
  • Brazil, South America

Gap Year Pros

Whether you decide to teach English at an urban school in Southeast Asia, explore off-the-grid in the Australian Outback (like Harry), or join wildlife conservation efforts in West Africa, there are many incentives associated with taking a gap year. Discover some of the benefits that a gap year experience can offer:       

✅ Enhance Your World View

International travel helps you gan a more globalised perspective. As you absorb the social customs and environment of another country, this immersion turns you into a more globally aware citizen. A PhD student from the University of Sheffield, who travelled to Singapore, tells The Guardian: “[Seeing] the world through a foreigner’s eyes led me to realise my previously invisible cultural habits and hone my sense of empathy and ability to understand others.”

✅ Elevate Your Academic Performance

As author John O’Shea explains in his book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs; “In the United Kingdom, students who had taken a gap year were more likely to graduate with higher grade point averages than observationally identical students who went straight to [university].” The experience of travel leaves you informed, motivated, resourceful, determined, creative and solution-oriented, which then directly correlates to academic performance.

✅ Reduce the Effects of Stress or Burn-Out

With mental health issues on the rise on university campuses, over 15,000 first-year students disclosed some form of mental illness in 2017, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research. Mental health issues are often the result of academic stress, which is an inevitable part of higher education. Allowing yourself to take a gap year can eliminate some of that burn-out since it helps to create margin for self-reflection, leisure, rejuvenation and emotional peace.

✅ Take Time to Figure Out Your Direction

When you’re 17 or 18, figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life is daunting and nearly impossible. Not to mention, uni is expensive, do you really want to waste time and money to study something you aren’t sure of? Taking a gap year lets you reflect on the direction of your studies and what you’d like to pursue.

Gap Year Cons

While taking a gap year certainly sounds fab so far, we’d be remiss not to discuss the potential negative aspects. To build a comprehensive framework of what a gap year entails, here are a few of the drawbacks:

❌ Wasting Time

If you don’t carefully plan, a gap year can end up being a waste of precious time. While there’s no problem with enjoyment and relaxation, if you don’t invest in working, learning or volunteering, a gap year can cause “academic skills to depreciate which is detrimental for future productivity,” notes the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions.

How to overcome this: Gap year does not equal Netflix and Chill, make sure to plan ahead and make the most of your time!   

❌ Prohibitive Cost

Gap years can be an expensive and often complicated undertaking. Between planning, passports, airfare, travel documents, insurance, housing, transit, meals, and vaccinations (if needed), the expenses can add up. Just accounting for the bare essentials, one trip can cost approximately £1590, based on reports.

How to overcome this: The good news is there are resources and programmes available to offset this price, to help you travel the globe. Keep reading for more info!    

Affordable Gap Year Options Worth Checking Out

If you want to fund a cross-cultural gap year on the cheap and still maximise the number of places you are able to visit, check out the following programmes. From transport to hostels to excursions and tours, the resources below can assist you in planning a gap year that is both streamlined and economical:

  • Hostel World: highlights inexpensive accommodations in 170 countries
  • Round the World Flights: offers customised multi-stop airfare routes from the UK
  • Student Universe or Gap Force: curated gap year programmes which span everything from backpacking in the wilderness to volunteering for social impact causes to teaching other students to earn money or internship credits
  • TripIt: booking platform that consolidates all aspects of the itinerary, transportation and lodging on a convenient mobile app

Taking a Gap Year to Hit Pause Before Uni  

Not everyone knows what we want to be or do at age 18; it’s a very formative (and sometimes crazy) time in our lives. Going to uni is fantastic, but you don’t have to be in a rush to get there. Consider taking a gap year if you want to travel, explore and learn more about outside cultures as well as yourself.

At LIV Student, we offer weekly accommodations during the summer months, if you’re passing through Dublin.

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