A gap year to better focus on personal aspirations

Last year, according to estimates, in the UK (where the tradition of gap years is longstanding), between 181 and 185 thousand 18 to 24 years decided to wait to enter university after graduating from high school. UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admission Service) reported that in 10 years from 2012, the number of those deferring their education has increased by 52,1%.

In the Netherlands, in 2022, the number of students putting off their studies increased, with 67% of teenagers who started a degree compared to 72-75% registered in previous years*. In the US, where the percentages are still minimal, from the pandemic many more consider postponing entering college.

But what does the decision to pause after graduating imply? Is it beneficial or harmful to one’s later career? A long break, usually from 3 to 12 months, taken purposely to explore the world and/or oneself, travelling, working or volunteering, does not translate into a period to do anything. Many contemplate the option of gaining something. Be it that they want to earn some money to put into their education; grow some competencies or develop specific skills; experience different paths, or consider alternative options, particularly if they are not convinced of the study chances they have.

Why wait?

In many countries, students graduate from high school at 18, on average. Some experts believe they grow and mature during the next couple of years. Thus, a gap year can allow young adults to enter university more focused and prepared to pursue an academic path and, consequently, to be able to complete the chosen degree more effectively. Moreover, following different ways for a period can help avoid poor decisions later on and offer financial benefits in terms of money and skills learned in the process.

There is an underlying aspect of self-discovery in choosing a break from the predominant growing paraboles of the modern era. Many gappers take this time purposely to know themselves and their inclinations better. Economic objectives in the long term specifically drive others. There are not many phases in life when it is feasible to take a prolonged break, and because college is not for everyone, understanding personal inclinations earlier can avoid a series of possible adverse outcomes. From the risk of burnout to the lack of motivation to the heavy burden of borrowing extensive amount of money to pursue an education that may not be the right one.

On the other hand, though, some argue that spending time outside more traditional academic paths can postpone the start of professional careers and have financial consequences. Furthermore, the risk of disconnecting from other students can make the social experiences during university years difficult, affecting the opportunities to build a network for future professional perspectives.

Not for everyone

Undoubtedly this experience can imply substantial expenses. Yet the numbers of those contemplating the option have grown considerably since the pandemic. Many have deferred starting their studies due to the complexity of the situation within their families or society, concerned about the quality of education and the safety of life on campus. But others have decided to take a break in their first term of studies to focus on improving their mental health or because they were dissatisfied with the university experience.

All reasons make sense today, also considering the widespread and frequent discussions about the value of personal satisfaction, inclination and well-being. Additionally, the opportunity offered by a gap year is currently pondered with more open minds first by parents – who very often contribute substantially. And by recruiters later on.

An unstable present with rising costs and less stigmatized views on personal aspirations and the desire to balance work and individual needs has entered the conversation. It allows more people to think about the need to take some time off.

Not too surprisingly, also among those who have worked for decades and are now considering a gap year. Some who effectively step back and away from more stable and well-paid positions may give up some wealth to pursue personal well-being. And in the long run, gain better balance and satisfaction overall.


* This percentage is partly due to the government’s decision to reintroduce a students’ grant this September. But the rise in the costs of living and the struggles to find affordable accommodations is also significantly impacting the decision of many to wait.

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