So, you are just about to finish secondary school, high school, sixth form, college or whatever you call it and you are weighing up whether to take a gap year before going to University or whether you should hold off and take a gap year after you have your degree in hand. There are advantages to taking a gap year at certain stages in your life and hopefully this will inform you as to when would suit you best.
Going on a Gap Year before University
Taking the decision to go on a gap year before starting University is usually the more uncommon route that students take. Partly because the individual is younger than if they were to travel after finishing their degree and, as a result, being less world-weary and confident in trying something completely new. However, taking this decision is the more courageous and exhilarating choice that anyone could take and if taken full advantage of, the experience at such a young age will leave the individual in great stead in the future - not to mention a foot up on everyone else because of the wealth of life experiences gained whilst abroad.
No matter where you go - whether you plan to go to the Americas, trekking through Asia, rail passing throughout Europe or exploring Down Under - taking a year out to travel after so many years of constant schooling will return you feeling infinitely focused on what you want to do and achieve in the future, reinvigorated to achieve the next goal(s) in your life (whether that be attending and attaining a qualification at University or making a start and career out of a new job) and confident in your own abilities. As well as returning with a ship load of memories, souvenirs and a new outlook to life, it provides the ample opportunity to see what there is out in the world whilst you are young, carefree and before having any financial responsibilities to shoulder.
And there are lots of opportunities available for those that have not seen as many summers! Supplementing general travel with various volunteering organisations and charities allows you to contribute to other communities, other people's lives and the wider world as a whole - possibly a significant difference to prior when you have just been concentrating on yourself and your school grades. Not only is this a greatly satisfying experience, but the people that you help, the memories that you take away, not mentioning the skills that you will gain, will leave a significant impression on you - whether you partake in wildlife conservation, teaching, sports coaching or development work. And you'll be able to tell all of your would-be University friends about it.
Going on a Gap Year after University
The majority of young people that want to venture into the far corners of the world often don't feel secure (or confident) enough to just do it. Travelling by yourself may not sound fun without your friends when you're 18, and in my experience, many of my friends did not have the same passion to travel or means to come along at that age. However, this is of little relevance once you have notched a few more years up - i.e. after University!
Nevertheless, when you decide to take a gap year is dependent on the individual. Some people are confident enough to take those first steps and travel abroad at a relatively young age. Others may find that going to University prepares them for that experience of leaving home, standing independently, getting to know new people and trying out new things, much like travelling abroad. Once such trials and tribulations, such as washing your own clothes, doing the ironing and making food have been conquered, it makes first time travellers more prepared for the rigours of taking a gap year! In essence, moving to a different part of the country to study at University is a training ground and much akin to travelling abroad.
If you are a pragmatist, you might take into consideration the local economy... With the increasing difficulty for graduates to land jobs on completion of their degrees, it is the perfect opportunity to go and see the world while you have time and before (hopefully) getting and starting a new job.
Also, the likelihood is that studying at University will bring about a desire to travel and explore more than you did before, and hopefully your new University buddies will also have that same interest and fervour to go with you!
What suits you best?
Really, whatever time you decide to take a gap year depends on you as a person and whether the circumstances suit you or not. What is certain - if not the time that you do go - is that taking a gap year will change your life whenever you do decide to go. It will always be something that you will look back on in fondness. All you have to do is make sure that you choose your time and take that step out of the door, because the world is always going to be there waiting for you.
Author Manny Mahoon is an Online Journalism Intern at Frontier. Frontier is an international, nonprofit volunteering NGO with over 300 dedicated conservation, community development and adventure projects worldwide.
This article was originally published on Frontier's blog. To find see more from projects please visit Frontier's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, or see photos shared by volunteers in the field by searching #frontiervolunteer on Instagram.