Should you take a post-university gap year?
If you are reading this blog post, then chances are you have just finished a gruelling final year at university. Perhaps you have had some time to recuperate at home, enjoying a fridge full of food from Waitrose and bedsheets that are washed and folded just like magic. But final year really was hard, and you needed the rest. Once the rest period is over and your parents start to cautiously ask about your next steps, you are probably going to begin narrowing down your options.
At this point you have three choices. Option A: bum around for a bit longer, seeing how long it takes your parents to stop hinting and just cut you off. Option B: get a graduate job in the industry you are interested in. Option C: drain your bank account of the last dregs of student loan and book a flight to the other side of the world.
While Option A sounds alright in theory, you should probably grow up and take your destiny into your own hands. Options B and C are two very different ways of approaching your situation, and neither one is the ‘right’ answer.
Choosing between getting a proper job like your parents or travelling Asia like an 18-year-old can cause many sleepless nights for millennials. There are pros and cons to both options, and they often depend on your circumstances. The main thing to remember before you decide, is that the choice is personal and it doesn’t matter what your mates are doing, what your parents think, or what Lola with the pink hair from your sociology course is doing. Once you leave university, you really become an individual, and nobody can tell you what the right answer is – that is up to you.
The first thing to consider is whether you have taken a gap year already. Did you travel Australia before university and then also study abroad in Copenhagen during your third year? Is it really necessary to take another year out to find yourself, or are you just panicking about the thought of an office job? If you’ve already done ‘the travelling thing’, then have an honest conversation with yourself about why you want to head off again. If you love seeing new cultures and experiencing new things and you don’t feel as though you are finished with that yet, then that’s great and if you have the funds then you might as well start booking hostels. On the other hand, if you are just terrified by the thought of applying to jobs, have zero money and don’t particularly enjoy being grimy and sharing a bedroom with six others, then perhaps reconsider the flight to Chiang Mai.
There is a question around whether taking a belated gap year will help or hinder your chances of getting a job. Employers have mixed reactions to candidates that have taken a year off. For some it can flag up someone who isn’t as serious about their career compared to those who dived in headfirst after university. For others, it is an indication that the candidate is adventurous and a risk-taker (prized in the startup world). If you take a gap-year and do something worthwhile, for example an internship or a charity placement, then you may overtake some of the other applicants and come out looking like the better option.
BrighterBox CEO Charlie Johnson believes that “a candidate that has done a bit of travelling is often somewhat more worldly. They have another level of initiative and maturity gained from being self-reliant abroad, and are ready to focus on their career when they get back.”
Often you might have to work for a few months before heading off to travel and here you could bolster your CV. Instead of going for the easy option and getting your summer bar job back, why not push the boat out and apply for a short-term placement in a professional company. Internships are required to pay the legal minimum wage, so searching for one might be a place to start.
If you decide not to do a post-university gap year, then stop worrying that you have let go of your only chance to run off into the wilderness, because that’s just not true. Did you know that you can still go travelling after gaining a few years of experience in your industry? Crazy, right? Yet so many people seem to think there’s one window of opportunity immediately after you graduate and then you are instantly tied down with a mortgage and kids. We’re here to reassure you that’s not true. Spend a while working hard and building a network of contacts in the professional world and if you decide to take a break further down the line, then you will be perfectly placed to apply for jobs when you come back – rather than having a panic that you aren’t qualified for anything.
Whichever option you choose, just remember that either way it’s not the be-all and end-all. Unless you drive your parents to the brink of insanity with Option A (then you might need to start making swift plans to reverse the damage).