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Why take a gap year?

This week Sarah Sutton from the Bryanston Careers Office takes a look at the benefits, and considerations, of taking a gap year.

It is Tuesday week 2 at 4pm. The main corridor has been polished to within a micron of its parquet, visitor signage is in place, and there is an air of expectation in Jeffreys, as A2 volunteers help exhibitors to unload for the Futurewise Gap Fair. Elsewhere, A3s are being encouraged to hot-foot to DJLT to hear OB Alice Baker (from The Leap) talk about her gap experiences and how to plan a gap break. By 5:30pm the fair is open and a healthy buzz can be heard throughout Dorchester, Cowley and Grosvenor. A steady stream of parents, pupils and visiting schools browse the stands, having lively conversations about an array of gap possibilities, from marine conservation, volunteering, short courses in art history, business, cookery, TEFL, leadership, as well as instructor training for outdoor activities. By the time the fair closes there is no doubt that the exhibitors are happy: “Your students are great – so engaged, motivated and interesting.” “The room was buzzing from the start.” “What a fabulous school and such a well organised event. The best I have been to for ages.” Many parents offer positive feedback too, and leave armed with brochures – some we suspect may be for their own gap years …

But what of our pupils? Is this type of event beneficial to them? Is a gap year ‘A Good Thing’ or just ‘the thing to do’?

Taking structured time out between school and university or the next stage is an increasingly popular option, and approximately 50% of Bryanston pupils choose to take ‘time out’ following their IB/A levels. For those who are unsure of what they want to do next, or are not feeling quite ready for work or university, a gap year may be exactly what is needed. Others may want to take stock or improve grades, have a desire to give something back through volunteering, or may want to develop new skills, meet new people, travel, have fun or broaden horizons – while gaining experience that will enhance a personal statement, CV, or an overseas application. As well as organised breaks via specialist providers, an increasing number of academic short courses are available too, which can be a useful option for anyone who is unsure of what they want to study at university.

In true Bryanston tradition, the greatest benefits of a gap year involve the chance to develop as an individual:

  • Developing greater self-reliance, self-awareness and motivation
  • Strengthening personal skills
  • Increasing cultural awareness
  • Contributing positively to the wider world
  • Exploring new opportunities and seeing the world with new eyes
  • The chance to have an adventure and to make new friends

The vast majority who take a gap break have wonderful experiences and few regrets. However, life beyond the Bryanston ‘bubble’ can seem daunting if no plans are in place, so the most satisfactory gap years tend to be planned at least partially in advance, and goals are often grouped into blocks of time, such as: three months working/raising funds, three months gaining a new skill, three months volunteering, three months of fun and relaxation before the next stage. This is where the gap providers have a real role to play, in providing a structured first step towards the future.

What do universities think about gap years? 

This will depend on the course and the university, and needs to be checked carefully and directly with the institution concerned. Generally however, universities and colleges see the benefit of pupils taking a gap year – provided there is evidence that the year will be used to do something positive and constructive. (Doing a ski season or working in the local wine bar have their value, but on their own they are unlikely to provide a competitive edge.) 

What do employers think about gap years? 

Employers tend to favour candidates who are self-motivated, reliable, with a mature approach and who can demonstrate transferable skills. For many, taking a gap year can provide valuable breathing space, to increase personal confidence and allow these attributes to develop.

But back to the fair… 

Many pupils will also have attended one of the gap workshops offered at the A3 HE/Careers Forum in February. Do they now have a greater understanding of their next steps?

“I am thinking of taking a gap year because it is the best opportunity to travel around the world and make some money as well. We have been in school for our whole life so far (pretty much) and so taking a year off is a perfect way to break this routine before going into uni or getting a career.”

“I am taking a gap year because I want a year out to have fun and work. Plus I think I’d be too young to go [to university] straight away. I also think it’s a good chance to go and visit places I’ve never seen before.”

“I would love to hike the Appalachian trail. This trail will take around 6 months and this year presents the perfect time to do this. … I am also going to work for the other 6 months so I can save up some money to help me through uni.”

And what was their impression of the gap fair? It was not a complete solution, but was it worthwhile? 

“The gap fair on Tuesday was a brilliant way of getting an idea of what to do for the year… perfect for someone who is thinking of taking a gap year.”

“I thought it was good but I could have looked a lot of it up on the internet. Plus there were lots of skiing companies so if u weren’t doing a season, it was quite limited.”

“Talking to the exhibitors encouraged me to open my thoughts on other activities to do on my year. … The exhibitors are all very enthusiastic about their 'adventure' and so it is extremely helpful talking to them.”

Taking a gap year is by no means right for everyone. For those who are venturing down a mathematical or science-related route there can be very sound reasons not to ‘press pause’ before continuing their studies. But for some pupils, the best reason of all for choosing to take a gap year is quite possibly the fear of taking one. In words sometimes attributed to Mark Twain (1835-1910): 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

Many who went straight to work from school some years ago, will share that sentiment. 


Should I take a gap year?

Three articles that may help you to decide:

For further advice:

Whether staying in the UK or travelling abroad, our goal is to encourage students to open their minds to possibilities while also staying safe. Not all gap organisations are created equal and the gap sector is unregulated. The Year Out Group provide a useful starting point for guidance:

Ethical alliances:

There are ethical and practical considerations to bear in mind, particularly in relation to volunteering or working abroad.

Remain travel aware and stay safe:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is an essential reference for those travelling overseas:

Short courses:

Gap breaks can involve study too. 

About Futurewise:

The Futurewise Gap Fair at Bryanston is biennial.