After the IB: Should I take a gap year?

Timothy Hoffmann

You may have known since primary school that you wanted a year out before furthering your studies; you may be adamant that you want to steam straight ahead to university; and you may be like most people, that is, unsure and full of questions. Planning and undertaking a gap year can be a complicated project, but it can also bring huge rewards and a well deserved break. We thought it might be useful to share some thoughts and tips with you!

Firstly, some parents may be opposed to the idea of taking a gap year entirely. Whilst sometimes, this may stem from concerns about spending a ‘year doing nothing’ or economic concerns, it is entirely possible to plan a year that is both extremely packed, and entirely self-funded. However, before discussing these options, it is important to understand why some parents – and some students – are not taken by the idea.

A very common worry is that, once someone has taken a year out, they will not be motivated to take up studying again. This is an entirely valid point of view – if you think that you are one of those people, you may want to reconsider! Secondly, and perhaps mostly widespread amongst parents, are fears that a gap year is essentially a ‘wasted’ year. A year out can certainly become ‘wasted’ if badly planned, and end up becoming an unexplained blank space on a CV rather than and enriching and exciting experience. If you do choose to take a gap year, planning is absolutely essential. Not only does it disfavour you on paper to spend a year doing nothing, but you will almost certainly end up being quite bored! So gap years do take a certain amount of thinking – but they can turn into some of the best experiences in your life. This bring us to the type of things that you may want to do.

Get a Job! 

For some people, economic concerns are a prime motivator for taking a year out. Quite contrary to worries about being an expensive luxury, many students decide to take a paid job for a year to build up capital before continuing their education. This can be a very sensible choice depending on your circumstance or, indeed, desire for independence! Taking a job in a restaurant or a hotel, for instance, not only pays, but also provides extremely valuable experience, not only for your future employers but also for yourself. Trying out different work environments before university can be great for understanding which type of jobs might work for you, and which don’t. This should not be underestimated. For instance, although you might be unlikely to work as a waitress after your studies, your experience working in a small coffee shop might tell you that you don’t enjoy working alone, and are better suited to working in a team. It might also tell you that whilst you are comfortable interacting with customers, you are less confident dealing with money, or working in highly stressful situations, etc. Getting paid work experience in any sector is a great idea.

Travel & Explore

You may also choose to work only part of your year off, and use that money to fund some other project. This might include travelling and learning a new language. If you are keen on language learning, it’s definitely worth investing money in a good language school and staying with a local family – many schools offer this possibility and it avoids you staying in student residences where the common language is always English. This also allows you to meet new people who you may want to travel with later on, if you’re planning on exploring your country of choice. Learning a language is not only fun, it can also turn out to be a huge asset later on – so definitely a good bet as a gap year activity. Combining language with travelling also makes you more of a risk-taker, more independent, and ultimately more of a responsible person, all great things on a CV (although of course a gap year shouldn’t be primarily about your CV!).

Volunteer!

Many students also choose to dedicate some of their time to volunteering activities. This is noble, and can be valuable to both you and the receiving end. However, do be careful; many volunteering programs for students fresh out of high school are either scams or actually harmful to the receiving country. Many are expensive, and some actually take work away from the hands of locals to wealthy ‘volunteers’. Be wary and stay sceptical when searching for such schemes; some good ones do exist, but one must be careful. Above all, remember that if you decide to volunteer it should be to help – truly help – and that if you can’t find anything that seems sensible or legitimate it might actually be best to abstain. This might be a disappointment, but giving money to the local economy by travelling as a tourist is also helpful and less of a moral minefield!

Basically, gap years are what you plan them to be. For those of you keen on the idea, it can be a totally unforgettable and infinitely valuable experience. It can also provide a much needed break after two stressful IB years and allow you to start education on again refreshed and motivated. It can also be an opportunity to build up some money before becoming a student again. Gap years may have their drawbacks – but if you plan them correctly and are confident that you’ll want to keep studying afterwards, my advice is to plan carefully and go for it!