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Mind the gap: Why it’s good to take some time off

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch

Taking the step from high school to university is a crucial transition that will define the rest of your life. But it isn’t always easy and can leave you unhappy with your university experience or bachelor’s degree, lacking real-world experiences and feeling an overall sense of unpreparedness for the “real world.” However, by taking time off before going to university (or even after!), you can find out what you truly want out of life.

Gap year galore

A gap year is a period that you take off – usually from your studies – and use to work, travel, volunteer, or a combination of all three. A gap year doesn’t necessarily have to be a year, it can range from two weeks to a year, or even longer. Try to use this time well by combining something fun that you’ve always wanted to do, with something that will allow you to gain or build on a certain skill. Taking time off will allow you to explore your options, all while you figure out what you truly want to do or which direction you want to go in. The benefits of a gap year weigh out the risks if you plan it carefully and make sure you get fun, experiences and some skills out of it.

It pays to take time off

There are many reasons to take some time off. It can help you gain admission into university by giving you something that makes you stand out. You will perform better at university as you have a better understanding of yourself and will have picked up skills that can be applied to both your studies and a future career. You will realize what you love doing before studying it and know what field you want to avoid; at the very least you’ll get a much better sense of what matters to you and how this might impact your career choice. Know what you want in life will help you go after it. This goes along with having time to think; there’s no need to make a rush decision that will define the rest of your life.

Do what you love, love what you do

Do you remember what you wanted to be as a kid? It probably changed several times and maybe now you’re still not completely sure. Hands-on experiences in new environments allow you to realize what you really want to do. You can’t love or hate something until you tried it. You also don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you begin your studies and realize it’s actually not for you. Taking time to know what you really want to do will end up saving you time, money, and ensure that you get on a good path from the beginning. On average, only 30% of university students have job offers before graduation; however, after completing an internship, that figure rises to 58%. If you want to study business, for instance, take this time to intern in that field so you can be sure it’s what you really want. Or, do the opposite: do something you might have considered, especially as a child, but for whatever reason, didn’t follow through with. You might end up realizing that it actually is a dream job, and that you can do that job instead.

Not all those who wander are lost

Traveling and taking the time to explore also helps you grow as a person; allowing you to gain self-confidence and a sense of independence. This is the time to discover new countries, cultures and people. Travel experiences and cultural knowledge also make you more employable: 91% of employers recognize the benefits of studying abroad, and 73% of HR professionals agree that a constructive gap year is worthwhile. You will be able to step outside of your comfort zone and get a new perspective on life. In the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of yourself and what it is you want out of life.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all

Volunteering during your gap year will allow you to discover something you are really good at and develop new skills. If you were to host a fundraising event, for instance, you will learn about planning, budgeting and implementation. Volunteering by painting a mural at a school in Tanzania, for example, will make you feel accomplished and is a great way to give back to a community in need. You’ll carry these kinds of experiences with you throughout your life, and you will feel a deeper connection to the community you’re helping. And companies love a volunteer. A survey carried out by TimeBank through Reed Executive showed that among 200 of the UK’s leading business, 73% of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteering experience over one without, and 94% of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted.

All in all, volunteering promotes finding new interests and hobbies and gives a sense of fulfillment that is good for your overall morale.

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