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Is a Gap Year worth the time and money?

Is a Gap Year worth the time and money?

Are you thinking about taking a Gap Year after school or uni?  Well, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.  There are many factors to consider, and probably two of the biggest criteria for you will be “can I afford it”, and “have I got the time”?

Can I afford to take a Gap Year?

If you’re heading off to university or college, or you’re just about to graduate, the chances are, you’ll have a student loan to pay back.  If you’ve arranged this through Student Finance, you don’t have to start paying back the loan until your earning reaches a threshold.  This means that taking a gap year won’t affect your student loan, it just may delay the point at which you start paying it back. 

Will your Gap Year increase your debt?

  

Well that’s up to you.  In effect, there are three types of Gap Year, financially speaking:

  1. You can choose to have a self-funded Gap Year, where you earn money either before you travel, or while you’re travelling, to pay for the experiences on your trip.  If you budget well, you’ll come back from your travels with the same bank balance as when you left.  So you won’t have increased your debt, and you’ll have had some amazing adventures along the way.
  1. You can use your Gap Year as an opportunity to gain work experience and earn money which you can then bank to pay for your upcoming studies and treat yourself to a short travel adventure also.  If you’re off to uni it’s always good to have some money in the bank before you go, as it will relieve some of the pressure during your college years.  And it’s always great to have good work experience on your CV.  Try and make sure you get work in an area that you are thinking of going into as a career.  6 months at Micky D’s may increase the bank balance but unless you want to run a burger bar for a living, it may not be the most constructive use of your time.  If you are intending to build up funds for the next stage of life, then you can still go off travelling after you’ve finished your job, but again, budget carefully – set aside how much you want to have saved, and then make sure your trip won’t eat into those savings.
  1. Finally, you can have a Gap Year that leaves you in the red.  At some point you will have to pay for this – either from savings you’ve made earlier, or from future employment, or for the lucky few, the Bank of Mum & Dad might contribute towards it – especially if you can convince the BoMD that your Gap Year will be educational and life-enhancing and not just one long beach party.  If you’ve left uni, and you have good career prospects, then the thought of having more debt before you start your proper job may not be too terrifying.  But for most, the idea that you’ll have yet more money to pay back, is not enticing.  For you, you need to think seriously about how you fund your time away.

Don’t forget, that you can be creative in how you pay for your travels.  If your trip includes volunteering work, or mission work, something where you’re helping others, serving in a community, or similar, then you can fund-raise to cover that part of your trip.  Friends and relatives will often be willing to help you with fund-raising If they can see it’s for a good cause.

So to summarise, you can always afford to take a Gap Year, as long as you have a plan as to how you’ll fund it, and you stick to your budget for your trip.

Is a Gap Year worth the time?

Well that’s like asking, is it worth going on holiday.  In brief, if you’ve got the finances sorted, then in most cases, taking a Gap Year will be worth the time, but here’s a few things to consider, depending on your situation:

  1. You’re finishing school and have been offered a place at university who won’t defer that place.  For you, if this is the course and college that’s right for you, it’s not worth jeopardising this.  You can always take a Gap Year after you graduate.
  1. You’re finishing school and your chosen university or college is happy to defer a place for a year if you want.  Here, it’s up to you.  You’ve nothing to lose, as far as your studies are concerned, and everything to gain as far as an amazing experience is concerned.  However, you may just want to get to college, get your studies done, and crack on with the rest of your life.  Or you may think “What’s the rush, I’ll be working for over 40 years, one less year of work at the start won’t matter.”  Only you can really decide that one.  Take advice, but also remember, there won’t be many times in your life when you can just stop and take a year to do anything that takes your fancy.
  1. You didn’t get the grades you needed to get into the uni or college you wanted.  Well, look at this as a God-given opportunity to spend a year re-evaluating your life.  Perhaps you can re-take, and travel and then go to uni.  Perhaps you’re not meant to be going to that particular course, and you need to look at different courses.  Or perhaps you should just be going straight to work, starting at the bottom and working your way up.  Clearly in this situation, sorting out the bigger picture is more important than whether you go sky-diving in South Africa, but once you’ve decided what the next step is, then you can factor in some travel time. 
  1. You’ve finished school or university and just want to get a proper job.  Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a proper job lined up, then your future employer may well let you start a bit later and go off travelling.  You’d be unlikely to get a whole year, but even an extended holiday is a great adventure.  If you’re joining a graduate scheme, then clearly that will have a non-negotiable start date. 
  1. If you haven’t got a job lined up, then taking a self-funded gap year could enhance your employability when you come back.  Employers will look favourably on candidates that have experience, show self-reliance, initiative and independence.  Just make sure that your Gap Year includes some worthwhile experiences where you’ve helped others or learnt a new skill.  Don’t just pack it with adrenaline adventures, and beach-bumming.  A future employer will see that as just one long holiday.
  1. Use your Gap Year to get a job.  If you’ve left education without work prospects, then take a Gap Year, but use it intentionally to find a job.  You can get part-time work to fund a trip, and this part-time work could lead to full-time work after your trip, if you’ve impressed on the job.  Or you can travel and get relevant work overseas, which can either lead to a proper job in that country or give you valuable experience that you can bring home with you.  This overseas work might need to be on a volunteer basis, but it could lead onto paid employment.  When working overseas, make sure you look into visa regulations for working in that country.  There’s no point getting a great job and then being turfed out because you’re on the wrong visa. That wouldn’t look good on a CV. One final tip, is to make sure you get a reference from each employer on your travels.  It’s much easier to get the reference there and then, than to get home, and contact them a few months later.

  

  1. If you’re totally undecided as to what to do next, time off travelling can help you.  Gap Years are a great way to get to know yourself better, and what makes you tick.  You’ll have experiences that you love so much, they may inspire your life into a certain direction.  You’ll meet people that will influence you and guide you.  Use a Gap Year as time out, to find out what the next season of your life should be.

So is a Gap Year worth the time and money?  In most cases, I’d say it absolutely is worth the time.  You’ll see so much, grow so much, learn so much, meet some amazing people, and create memories that will last a lifetime.   Is it worth the money?  Because of all of the above, yes, I’d say it’s worth the money, but it’s up to you to fund it properly.  Don’t let a lack of money curtail your experiences, but also don’t come back with a ton of debt, and no way to pay it back.  A Gap Year should be full of memories, and worth every moment, whether it’s a ski course in the French Alps, hill-trekking in South East Asia, building a school in Africa, or cycling across North America.  Enjoy!

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