Mind the gap

Career Corner — a weekly Career Guidance column by Margaret Hession

A ‘gap year’ is the popular term for students who take time off to travel or work between secondary school and starting college or apprenticeships. The aim generally is to promote a more mature outlook with the benefit of some insight before taking the next step. Not everyone wants to go straight from school to college but before that decision is made, one needs to seriously consider what one wants want to achieve or it could end up being a wasted year. So what are the pros and cons of this choice?

Reasons for taking a gap year

Firstly considers the whys of this decision. Are you taking it because you are confused about college courses? Do you feel that you are too young or not yet ready for college? Would you like to gain work experience in a particular area? Other reasons include:

A break from study

Learn new skills/experiences

Earn and save money

Travel

Volunteering in an area you feel passionate about

Family circumstances

By far the most way to benefit from a gap year is to work in the career industry you intend pursuing. As teachers we see first-hand the benefits of Transition Year (TY ). This is largely due to the work experience component. There is also a possibility to defer your college course which you do not necessarily have to take up if your experiences that year bring you in another direction. However there are strict guidelines around this which I will refer to at a later date. Due to the rising cost of third level education and rent, some students have no choice but to take a year to work and earn money. Others decide to undertake a Post Leaving Cert (PLC ) course to explore the area before committing to a degree course.

Is a gap year is the right choice for everyone?

The short answer is no. A problem arises when a student announces they are taking a gap year without giving it any thought or leaving it on the long finger as something to figure out in the future. Some people find a year out becomes a distraction from their longer term plans. This needs very careful consideration and planning. Create a solid plan if possible six months before you sit the Leaving Cert. Make sure you discuss this in full with parents. Be clear on your personal reasons for this choice.

The biggest risk of taking a considerable break from study is that you may lose the momentum for it when you return. The danger of a gap year is that it could turn into gap years. Some students who have every intention of returning to college can get sidetracked by jobs they didn’t really want or get used to having their own money. It’s really important to set goals to make your time productive, so you need to identify what you want to achieve.

If the reason for a gap year is to travel, in my opinion at least you are better off to do this having finished your degree or training, as you are older, wiser and will have more experience of dealing with people. Travelling costs money, lots of money, particularly if you are not working and you could find yourself in a worse financial position at the end.

The paradox of the gap year is that while lots of students claim it matures them significantly, it takes a mature person to plan it so that they gain long term benefit. Nowadays work experience is a crucial part of many courses at third level which can be very beneficial for those already in an area in which they have an interest.

Will it affect my chances of getting a job?

No as long as you can make your application stand out as a result of your choices. Explaining what you did with your time could make your application more unique. If you have any doubts, discuss your ideas further with your School Guidance Counsellor.

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