A gap year refers to the one-year period wherein students decide to defer their studies in lieu of traveling, doing internships, working part-time, or relaxing. Essentially, it is a sabbatical for people planning to return to study, instead of work. The gap year is often taken prior to the undergraduate degree, before the graduate program, or in some rare cases, somewhere in between the undergraduate years.

In a world of constant growth – technological, economical, and cultural – taking a year off seems like setting yourself back a year. In a society of young and successful upstarts like Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook at his dorm room; Barack Obama, who is not only the first African-American president but also the fifth-youngest president; and the ever-adored Emma Watson, successful actress, model, and activist – the sooner the better seems to be the goal.

And yet, here are ten reasons and two people that attest to the value of taking your time.

1. Save money

For most students, money does not come easy. Taking a year off to save money would allow you to become more financially prepared for school, at the undergraduate or graduate level. And in the situation where your finances are secure, either through your family savings or location and tuition fee of the university you intend to attend, chances are you’ll be thankful for the extra money in the long run.

2. Gain work experience

Depending on the time you take your gap year – if it’s prior to university, in between, or before graduate school – work experience will always look good on your application and CV. Work experience can range from doing internships, volunteer programs, or even working a cheeky shift at your local Nando’s. Work experience of any kind shows a degree of commitment, social skills, and time management – all of which are crucial skills to develop for career progression.

3. Figure out long-term goals

With no looming deadlines of papers, exams, or presentations, this year off is a good time to truly figure out your long-term goals. Quite often, we get caught up in the deadlines and focus so much on our short-term goals that we forget to determine what exactly all the work is for – where are we heading and do our current commitments reflect the future we want to live? A gap year provides the time to really ponder these consequential questions.

4. Travel

Travel is a very common goal amongst individuals who decide to take a gap year. Indeed, a great number of students take a gap year for this very purpose alone: a chance of living in a different country, a different region, in a different continent. Others take this as a chance to go on that interrailing adventure, traversing Europe, meeting like-minded people, discovering hidden gems. Travel provides the opportunity of sharing your own culture and learning from others.

5. Make progress on your bucket list

What about that hot-air balloon ride, standing at the Grand Canyon, and seeing the Northern Lights? Depending on where you are in the world, the state of your finances, and gap year commitments, you can most definitely strike out a thing or two on your bucket list. And if you don’t have a bucket list – well then, this is a prime time for you to create one.

6. Meet new people

Being a student, whether it is in secondary school, university, or graduate school, there is a tendency to meet people that share a great number of your traits – your interests, economical standing, or your cultural background. Insomuch as university is a melting pot of people, it still leaves a great number of people in the cracks. A gap year is chance to meet these types of people, from volunteering at a homeless shelter to traveling to India.

7. Discover self

Trying new activities, traveling far distances, living in different conditions – all of these are risks. These risks not only allow yourself to discover or follow your interests, but these are risks that challenge you. During the gap year, you’ll most likely gain confidence in your skills and talents, all the while discovering new ones.

8. Ground yourself

The accumulation of the various experiences you’ll have during the gap year will allow you to see yourself in the bigger picture. It will highlight the privilege of your position. Moreover, the memories and the trials you triumph over during this year will serve to ground you well in time of looming deadlines, high-stress presentations, and the grinding hours of relentless study.

9. Recalibrate goals

At the end of the gap year, you can take time to reassess your goals. This is an opportunity to reflect on what you have learned – about the world and about yourself. If you are yet to decide on your subject of study, you might find yourself torn between different fields. Or, this might concretize your passion for human rights, journalism, or medicine.

10. Relax

School is not easy, at the very least for those that have taken it seriously. As such, a gap year is well and truly deserved. A gap year is a break to allow yourself deep breaths and some time to recharge. When the time comes to attend university, you’ll feel less anxious and more ready.

Vanessa Lugatiman and David Dooley both graduated from University College Dublin with a bachelor’s degree in humanities and have decided to take a year off after graduation – echoing the reasons on the list.

Vanessa’s gap year experience

Vanessa at graduation | Michelle Diaz

1. Why did you take a year out? What was your goal?

My reason for taking a year out was to figure out what I really wanted to do which usually is the reason being for people who decide to take a gap year, and the goal was to be able to explore as much as I can, the many options I had. It was a year for me to do something productive and improve on myself also as a person.

2. How did you spend this year out?

I spent the year working part-time in a couple different areas such as housekeeping, retail, waitressing, and babysitting, etc. Whilst being able to work and save money, it was a good experience trying out different jobs as I figured out things I’m good and not so good at. I was able to deal with a lot of different people and I found that I have gained more confidence in myself too. Hobby-wise, I think it’s important to get into that area also as I found that we sometimes forget or let go of a hobby that we were so good at as kids, because we get busier as we grow older. I reconnected with my passion for painting. Posting them online allowed me to get commissions and I was able to sell a couple of my paintings which then helped me to have more savings. I ended the gap year using some of the savings I had to travel, and it was the most enlightening year I’ve ever had.

3. Were you able to achieve your goal? Given the chance to redo it, would you do it again? make the same decision?

Yes, and 100% I would do it again. I was able to explore things I did not know I had the option of doing. Being aware that I had that choice is such wonderful thing and I think everyone should at least try and take a year out. It was such a rewarding feeling. With achieving my goal, I also grew as a person and it feels liberating to realise that everyone is running in their own pace and one should not feel bad or pressured for being “behind”, so long as they use that time productively.

David’s gap year experience

David at graduation | Michelle Diaz

1. Why did you take a year out? What was your goal?

I took a year out because I wanted to make more money before starting my dream job of becoming a teacher. For my year out, I wanted to work in a job that gave me even more experience with working with children. That is the reason I started working in a Creche as an afterschool teacher, 5 days a week. I love what I do, and it gives me an even greater insight, into the life of what primary school teaching insists of.

2. How did you spend this year out?

I spent the year out working and saving for college next September. I also got to spend my free time with family, and often having dinner and nights out with friends made from university and work.

3. Were you able to achieve your goal? Given the chance to redo it, would you do it again? make the same decision?

Yes, I achieved my goal by working in a sector I enjoy, which has given me a little glimpse of what my future job will entail. It has also given be an insight into the advantages and disadvantages of my job too.


David Dooley at University College Dublin | Michelle Diaz