With the run up to A-level results day you always get the same question: “what can a gap year really do for you?” Companies throw stats around and say whether or not a gap year can boost a CV, or whether it can give you skills in the work place, but when the companies are trying to find the answer they always forget one very important thing – the gappers themselves.
I recently read an article about the pros and cons of taking a pre-university gap year. In it, a couple of companies that specialise in volunteering and working abroad stated that an overseas placement, specifically one that is relevant to a particular career path, can make a CV stand out from the crowd.
However, the protagonists in this piece, the employers, state that a gap year isn’t worthwhile, that is doesn’t boost a CV. With comments like “a minority of gap year experiences are truly admirable” and “a gap year carries no particular magic”, maybe they’re right.
So, who do you believe? The companies with an ulterior motive in mind who say a gap year is a good thing, or the business professionals who are so far removed from the gap that they don’t know the true benefits that it truly can have.
I think you believe the gappers themselves. In two years of meeting people on the road and a year and a half of working for gapyear.com, I can only think of a handful of people who have had a bad time on their gap year. Yet on the flip-side, I can think of thousands of people who have had the time of their life, people who claim that a gap year has made them into the person they are today.
One member of gapyear.com, Darren Crocker, claims that his gap year gave him a completely different perspective on life, that it completely changed him. He said: “I wanted to see the world but I also wanted to change so badly. I did both. I feel like I left a boy and came back a man. I have the upmost respect for my trip and the places and people I met along the way.”
When talking about the benefits of his gap year, Darren commented: “I am a much more balanced person now than I was before. Naively, I thought I would have a sudden realization about what I wanted to do with my life when I got home from travelling. It doesn’t work like that. However, I took back with me a bundle of confidence and a level of maturity that is valuable to my everyday life. I’m not scared to step outside my comfort zone.”
Has it boosted his CV? Other than showing life experience, probably not. Darren himself describes his CV as “weak if not meaningless” as he went straight from school into work. But has his gap year made him a better person with life experience? Undoubtedly.
It doesn’t matter whether a gap year is backpacking, volunteering or working abroad, all that matters is that you’re willing to open yourself up to new experiences, to be willing to be affected and changed by the situation and the surroundings around you.
People say that a gap year is only worthwhile if it’s spent doing something productive, if there’s an ulterior motive to it like boosting your CV or gaining relevant work experience. But surely doing nothing can be doing something productive if there’s a final product at the end of it? After all, Newton didn’t come up with the theory of gravity by doing something constructive. He sat under a tree doing ‘nothing’. Yet what he was really doing was thinking, opening up his mind to a world around him. It was while doing ‘nothing’ that he changed the world, purely because he believed he could.
One could argue that’s what a gap year is – opening up your mind to a world around you, to be influenced and sculpted by external influences. And if the end product is a better person, then isn’t that a productive gap year, regardless of whether it boosts a CV or not?
Surely if the gappers themselves say a gap year is a good thing, that it can make you into a better person, then surely they must be right? Talk to anyone who’s just come back from their gap year and ask them “what can a gap year really do for you?” and see what they say. You’ll be surprised by the answer…