The Big Question aims to answer those queries that students find themselves asking everyday- the big and the small; the serious and the silly. Stuck at an impossible crossroads? Let Impact help you make an informed decision.

“The perfect time to stop and think about what you really want to do with your life, while learning more about the world and yourself.”- Sarah argues YES.

Gap years are becoming increasingly common, with between 200,000 and 250,000 young people aged 16-25 taking one each year. Once the preserve of wealthy, middle-class students, they are also growing in popularity amongst students from diverse backgrounds. There are multiple reasons why they are now more accessible, as they can be beneficial in various ways.

If you’re unsure about what to do with your life after fourteen years of school, a year out is a great opportunity to explore different career options before getting stuck into university (or not). You can try out whether a particular career is for you, either through interning or gaining work experience, which may give you a new perspective on the world of work, enhance your CV and help you to make important decisions for the future.

You can try out whether a particular career if for you.

A year out is also a great chance to earn a bit of cash. Even without formal training, there are many jobs out there that we could do, whether it’s waiting tables in a restaurant, looking after children or cleaning houses. Let’s face it, you can’t realistically work 30 hours a week on top of working towards a degree, so why not start earning towards those £9000 tuition fees before you go?

Exploring the world is obviously an appealing reason for school-leavers to have a ‘gap yah’. However, travelling not only broadens your horizons and gives you experiences you’re unlikely to forget any time soon; it also shows future employers initiative and drive, and skills such as resourcefulness and problem solving. If you combine this travel with some voluntary work, as 20% of gap yearers do, such as helping out at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand or building a school in Tanzania, you could gain a truly enriching experience, while knowing you’ve given something back. Experiences like these shape our understanding of the global community and how we relate to those around us.

Experiences like these shape our understanding of the global community.

Ultimately, it’s all about making a personal choice that’s right for you. Instead of jumping straight from school into university life, taking a year out is the perfect time to stop and think about what you really want to do with your life, while learning more about the world and yourself. There are so many benefits in terms of growth, maturity and independence, as well as becoming more employable in the long run. So my advice is: go for it!

Sarah Archer 

“I didn’t want to be spouting ear hair or lunging around campus with an oaken staff by the time my gap year was over.”- Wolfgang argues NO. 

A popular point in favour of gap years I’ve heard from various proponents is ‘it’ll broaden your mind’. Well, I suppose I’m then condemned to a parochial world-view and an annoyingly low number of ‘likes’ on my profile pictures until I frolic with a dubiously tame tiger cub, then.

I should say that I don’t oppose travel. Indeed, it’s probably quite mentally nourishing and you would most likely have the best trip of your life. There are simply unchanging similarities between most gap year students’ experiences, which lend themselves well to parody. As Julian Barratt’s Dan Ashcroft says of the eerily recognisable ‘idiot’ hordes in The Nathan Barley Show, they are ‘a paradox of their own uniform individuality’.

Let’s additionally examine more closely some of those experiences. Volunteering. If you wanted to do volunteering abroad out of total altruism and an irrepressible desire to help the disadvantaged, it should be worth noting the price of flights and accommodation. Gap360.com lists an apparently cheap ‘community development’ scheme in Cape Town as £564 including flights and accommodation. Activities include school refurbishment and ‘a traditional BBQ on your first night!’. The statistics say a lot – £564 easily eclipses many monthly salaries of local, qualified employees in the affected areas. Money that surely would be more helpful if donated more directly to charity.

£564 easily eclipses many monthly salaries of local, qualified employees in the affected areas.

In The Times, Alexandra Fean lamented the advent of ‘new colonialists’; volunteers who indeed hit developing continents for ‘charity tourism’ and unbeatable Instagram opportunities, while displacing domestic helpers and leaving some economic debris in their wake. It seems that a ‘volunteering’ gap year void of self-interest is simply not possible.

If you take a gap year to find a full-time job, maybe get a little work experience or give your CV some clichéd vibrancy, then I sincerely admire you for it. The Man – namely via Deloittie and Allen & Overy – always lists valuable work experience as some of the required criteria. I couldn’t have done that as I was one of the very lucky breed who crept into higher education before the criminal hike in fees. The fee rise means that gap years to fund your actual degree are a tragically appealing option, so the only thing I can say against a year of employment before university is that you’re delaying the best years of your life.

I mean, to those who took a gap year, don’t you feel a bit… behind? This was my only initial reason for heading straight to university. I didn’t want to be spouting ear hair or lunging around campus with an oaken staff by the time my gap year was over.

I mean, to those who took a gap year, don’t you feel a bit… behind?

I think I have the same idea of a basic alternative as most other anti-gap year activists – do it after you graduate. You can whittle down your options abroad to suit a career, and you’ll have more world-weariness to get by in some of the more foreboding areas – without tearing after pickpockets who sprint through a hazy marketplace with your entire backpack in tow.

Wolfgang Mcfarlane 

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1 Comment

  1. Jim Taunton
    September 21, 2013 at 09:54 — Reply

    I for one cannot stand these trust fund morons spinning ever closer to the grave.

    And don’t tell me I’m jealous because I could afford to travel the world in a hell of a lot more comfort right now -principally because I didn’t feck around pretending to save the third world for a year.

    As for anyone posting photo updates of their gap year on instagram… jumping up in the air at a beach or other attraction just makes you look like a c**t.

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