Published on 12:00 AM, July 20, 2018

Should you take a gap year?


After a long exhausting four years, it's quite usual for you to want a break before you get stuck into the world of bills, mortgages and straining nine-to-five jobs. You may crave time off to re-energise, but conventional wisdom, social norms and even practicality reminds you that your future is doomed unless you jump right into the workforce or go off to graduate schools for that master's degree. As a result, you're left wondering- is a gap year after university really worth the risk? Well, the answer depends on how you plan to use that gap year.


When to take a gap year?

The panic of not having your whole life planned out sets in the closer you get to graduation, especially if everyone around you seems to have it all figured out. Believe it or not, the percentage of students that actually have it all sorted is much lower than you think. Truth is, even at the end of university, you are far too inexperienced to make a final decision about what you want in your life. So if you are part of the group that are caught between two career choices, or haven't still figured out what you enjoy doing, take a year off. Use this time to try out various hobbies, build up some skills and find your passion. After a year, you're bound to have a bit more clarity.

Alternatively, your time off might be involuntary as you patiently wait for acceptance letters from graduate schools. In this case, use your time to gain valuable experience in your field of interest. Graduate schools, especially if you're applying abroad, look for students with research experience and practical knowledge in their respective fields. A year off to hone such skills can give you the edge you need to stand out among thousands of applicants.

Then, what's the catch?

In a competitive world, taking a break can be risky, especially if you're already dreaming of making it big in your career. Opportunity costs include one whole year worth of networking and financial security.  Remember, if you do decide to take a gap year, the next year, you'll be competing with a whole new set of fresh graduates. Unless you actively work on your skills, you might come off as rusty compared to them. In fact, just watching the rest of your friends with jobs in their respective fields can be enough to make you feel incompetent and unaccomplished. But in the long run, a year off is not going to make much of a difference. However, in your early career days, especially in a country like Bangladesh, there will be at least a little impact.

Do schools care?

As long as you can positively portray your gap year, graduate schools will not mind. While writing your statement of purpose, be sure to extensively talk about the things you have learnt in your gap year. For example, if you travelled a lot, discuss what you learned from your travels. You may learn about different cultures, you may become more liberal and appreciative of diversity. If you've been involved in voluntary work, talk about the practical skills that you developed such as planning and organising. Finally, those of you with an internship can talk about how this gave you a taste of the corporate world and brushed up your communication skills. Explaining the gap year right can actually improve your application. The only time a gap year can have detrimental effects is if you've done absolutely nothing productive the whole year. In that case, better candidates are likely to steal your position.

What about future employers?

No matter how hard you have worked in university, no employer is going to think you're entitled to a year of doing absolutely nothing productive. The trick is to use a part of your gap year to earn extra CV points. You could keep six months to relax, and get extra work done during the other six months. Look for short internships in local businesses, or try volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about. Of course, how employers perceive gap years varies from one field to another. For example, you are unlikely to score a huge multinational corporate gig after a year of idleness. Alternatively, companies hiring people in creative roles such as art direction might prefer graduates with a gap year provided you use that time to explore your talent further.