Taking A Gap Year

A gap year holds great potential and some drawbacks, depending on ones particular situation. Would it be a good idea for you? Do you have a wanderlust or dread the thought of jumping right into your career straight away after college? Or maybe you haven’t built a lot of life experience, and want some stories to tell your grandkids. Whatever your inkling about a potential gap year, weight the pros and cons. Read about Jenny Rae’s personal experience with a gap year a glean some valuable insights.

Taking a Gap Year

Taking A Gap Year: YouTube Transcription:

The gap year. It’s something that when I was graduating from college was kind of unusual for people to just roll out, travel, or do something different in the year after graduation. Yet, we’ve seen an increase, certainly a trend in the European tradition of taking a gap year spreading all over the world to the US, Canada, and beyond and because our community is global, it’s a really exciting opportunity that we have to talk about what the pros and cons are for taking a gap year. Now as consultants we’ve typically structured this so that we have three pros and three cons. At the end, I will talk a little bit about someone who took a gap year and what they gained from it.


What Are Reasons Why You Should Take A Gap Year?

  1. Learn About Yourself

Taking a gap year gives you a tremendous opportunity to learn about yourself in an environment that is unusual, is unstructured, is different. It actually radically changes because of the people that you travel with, the places that you go, the things that you spend your time on. And learning about yourself and the world, the way that different perspectives feed into decisions. Being in different economies that are run by different styles of governments, being in different places that have different codes of ethics or codes of law provide you opportunities to change your perspective about maybe what you thought was a more narrow version of right and wrong. It also creates an open-mindedness, a curiosity, and an opportunity to really engage with the world. That will be critical for your success no matter what field you go into in the future.

  1. Real World Experience

You get experience in the real world. When you’re an undergraduate or when you’re in a university setting, you have a limited view of what the real world looks like. Your world is intentionally structured and a little cushy around you. But in the real world if somebody doesn’t like what you want, or if somebody steals something from you, you have to deal with that. It’s a very fast open-eyed experience, a growing up experience, and can be a big challenge.

Yet, it’s also a big opportunity to ground yourself in what’s happening in the real world. Instead of just reading about business you can go and engage with business owners, hear about them, talk to them, figure out what things that they’re doing. Instead of understanding how medicine works by studying a class book, you can go watch how medical procedures happen in a rural hospital in the developing world. It’s a tremendous opportunity to gain that real world experience.

  1. Developing Your Wildcard

Boost your resume with interesting stories and interesting experiences that create what we call at Management Consulted, the third dimension. So the first dimension is your education, the second dimension is your work experience, the third dimension are the things that you’re interested in, passionate about, and the things that you pursue beyond your education and your work experience. And that third dimension, that well-roundedness, that wild card factor is what is often compelling for organizations that make you distinct.

For that reason, one of the recommendations that we have, if you do decide to do a gap year, is that you have a very intentionally focused and structured work experience or volunteer experience, in the places that you go. Do that, and you’ll have something tangible that you can put on your resume and talk about. So let’s say you travel for five months. One of those months you’re volunteering somewhere. The one piece that goes on your resume is that volunteer experience where you can explain how you spent the five months traveling more broadly.

Pro Gap Year Summary

Some of the pros are that you get this opportunity to learn about yourself in a new environment that’s challenging and unstructured. Number two, real world experience is invaluable, it grounds you, gives you insight, gives you opportunity that you never thought was possible. And number three, it does boost your resume, it adds that third dimension to your story.

What Are Disadvantages Of Taking A Gap Year?

A gap year is not without challenges. And one of the challenges is that you need to be able to pay for it. You have to do that through the work that you’re doing, from savings, or from something else that you’re doing. It’s expensive, but beyond that there are some cons to doing a gap year.

  1. Lose Academic Momentum

It’s a challenging opportunity. Because of the challenge and the engagement that you might have in a different direction, it’s an opportunity for you to lose academic momentum. If you’re on a pretty standard schedule and you start as a freshman and you go as a sophomore and then you move up to a junior, you go as a senior, there’s just this natural cadence that your life is in and you’re disrupting that. What does that mean? Well it means that the study skills and the practicums that you put into place for the things that you are doing could be disrupted and it might be harder for you to re-engage. It may even be harder for you if you strip yourself of the world that you’ve already known to go back and understand what the point is of the work that you’re doing.

  1. Loss Of Relational Connection

In addition, it’s a challenging opportunity for you to lose connection with some of your friends. As we’ve learned in the last couple of months amidst coronavirus, one of the challenges of a virtual world is that it’s just not the same. You can maintain relationship for some period but it is difficult to deepen it when you’re away. So if your school friends go back to school, even if it’s online or they’re in a community where they’re regularly connecting with people, it’s likely that they will continue to accelerate and deepen some of their conversations with one another. This happens just by virtue of spending time with each other and you’re gonna miss out on that.

  1. Falling Behind Your Peers

You are starting a job a year later. So we’re gonna assume now that if you take a gap year, then you return to what you were doing before. This means that you are starting a job one year later in potentially a more competitive landscape or environment. So not only are you disrupting the flow of how you are normally doing things, but you’re also taking yourself out of lockstep with the friends and community that you’ve built. They’re a year ahead of you when you do return. Then when they’re going off into jobs, you’re a year behind them in terms of earning potential. Also you may potentially return to a more competitive environment. So there are a lot of great reasons to do a gap year but it should be really thoroughly considered.

Personal Experience

Now, I want to tell a little story about somebody who I know who took a gap year, and that somebody was me. I took a gap year after I graduated from my senior year in college and it probably wouldn’t have been something on my radar, because I paid my way through college. My parents and I split college 50-50, and so I had to pick up odd jobs, find scholarships, figure out ways to get free housing, and I worked my tail off when I was in school to try to find some of those opportunities. In my final year of school, I was granted a full scholarship. So some of the time and energy that I had spent working, I was able to put into savings during that year.

And about halfway through the year a good friend of mine suggested that her parents had recommended that she go on a gap year. Now, she was fortunate, her parents were offering to pay for her but she really wanted to go with somebody and that somebody had to pay for themselves, and that somebody ended up being me. So, we went through the process of planning some of the places that we wanted to go to. We decided that we wanted to spend a block of time in Spanish-speaking country so that we could develop our Spanish. We also wanted to spend most of our time in the developing world so that we could live more affordably and volunteer more frequently. Finally, we decided that we wanted to go to three continents. So we ended up in Central and South America, Southern Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Plan Ahead

One of the best things that we did on our trip was that we set up at least one volunteer arrangement on each continent before we arrived, and then getting kind of looped into the volunteer network when we were there, we discovered nonprofits and partner nonprofits and were able to volunteer more broadly. So we worked with Habitat for Humanity, with a medical center, with a sex trafficking organization, and it was tremendously exciting and a great resume builder at that season in my life, which was kind of unanticipated.

Take Time To Reflect

But probably the most important thing that I took out of that year was a revelation about something that i liked. And I realized that in my school environment I really hadn’t taken the time to reflect on what I liked and loved. I hadn’t thought about what really made me come alive. To my great surprise, I thought when I was going into the trip that it would be medicine. I loved caring for people, I loved being with people. I thought of medicine as a very engaging practical way to help people. Yet, every time I was in a medical office or medical center, I was bored out of my mind!

But when I began to engage with people on questions of business: How do you source rice? Why is this road being built here? Are you selling online and what are you doing with the online services we provide? It unlocked in me this excitement and opportunity for developing businesses in every corner of the planet. This has been what I’ve now dedicated my whole career to. And so for me the right time was then. I had an opportunity to pause my career and then to return to build a company or to go get a job afterwards. I had completed my degrees, there wasn’t disruption in what I was doing, and I was able to get all the pros with actually very few of the cons of a gap year.


So if you’re thinking about a gap year, I would encourage you to take one. I would also though encourage you to be very intentional about thinking about when the right time would be for you to take one. Oh, and by the way, that trip for us was seven months, we spent seven thousand dollars on the trip. We lived really cheaply, really affordably, some of that was through a lack of planning, so when you’re on the ground, you can often find things less expensively than when you plan ahead. A sense of adventure and the volunteer work that we did was able to really help us bring down our costs under food and housing, and so I would recommend that you be as creative as you can within whatever budget you have to stretch your money to go as far as you want it to go.

If you’re thinking about a gap year and you want some career advice about how to position it as you go or how to set yourself up for career success before or afterwards, please reach out to us at www.managementconsulted.com. We’d love to talk about gap years, and we’d love to hear about your story and your reasons for what you want to do with your future.

Additional Reading:


Filed Under: management consulting, new consultant