Why We Should Have a Gap Year After High School

Taking a gap year after high school wasn’t encouraged by my teachers.

Finishing education at 18 though, and thinking you know what you want to do with the rest of your life is crazy. Apart from my doctor friend Charlotte, I was probably one of the most set among my friends in what I wanted to do for a career, but that enthusiasm was soon crushed by my English teacher.

“There aren’t any jobs in journalism, choose something else” – Mr DeMarco, repeatedly.  

Disheartened, and not wanting to waste three years and £4000ish (so cheap back in 2003 hey?), I let a friend pick a course for me out of a prospectus I’d been flicking through earlier. “Yeah I’ll get those grades easy, that’ll do”. And so off I went to study Communication Studies at Sheffield Hallam, which I didn’t particularly like from day one if I’m honest but I stuck with until the end – give or take a few lectures. I even managed to pick up a Minor in Journalism along the way, despite what old Mr DeMarco had advised.

I’ll show him, I thought.

Why We Should Have a Gap Year After High School

Me in Greece

At John Taylor High School it was all about carrying on to University. The sense of fear was instilled in us that we’d ‘miss out on what our peers were doing’, that ‘we’d fall behind’, that ‘we’d forget how to study’, if we dared to venture off into the big wide world.

And so I, like 90% of my friends at the time, went on to spend three years at university in England. Bit like school, but boozier, and waaaayyy more expensive.

I’m all for gap years

Obviously I’m very happy with how my life has panned out since, bar a few difficult years working for sketchy companies, but absolutely, 100%, if I had my time again I’d take a gap year after high school. And I’d encourage any of my younger readers thinking about it to do the same.

I’d go to South America, work on the vineyards in Argentina and learn Spanish, or something equally as fabulous. Maybe even just Europe, to start, to Barcelona perhaps. I’d sign up to work on a project or two, make friends with locals and all kinds of people from around the world and pick up some language skills and life skills along the way. I’d actually go and see and experience the world and work out what I want to do in it, rather than jump from one classroom to another, a couple of towns and cities away.

Working at gapyear.com

A few years ago I worked for gapyear.com as the Content and Social Media Manager. Thanks to the comedian Matt Lacey there’s definitely a stigma attached to the ‘gap yah’ – apparently they’re for rich kids, hippy souls to find themselves or just for young people to go and get drunk in different countries for as long as the money lasts.

Mowing the lawn in Bechyne

But this is so untrue for pretty much all the gap years I’ve read and heard about. A gap year after high school can be anything, definitely not just rich kids going off to build toilets for people who don’t need them. If we’re boiling down the wealth of experiences on a gap year to a sentence: gap years are a chance to explore skills, passions and interests you may never knew existed in new destinations away from everything you know.

They’re rewarding, life-changing, fascinating and quite possible one of the best thing you’ll ever do.

Me pruning olive trees

During my 20 months working at gapyear.com I read through hundreds of stories of gap years, from tales of eager excitement and adventure to heart-wrenching stories from around the world, told through traveller’s experiences. Stories that were proof that travelling is not just about the here and now, it’s an important education in the history of our planet and one that will stick in your mind more than anything you’d learn in the classroom.

In fact, I can guarantee you’ll learn a new thing every day when you’re travelling, and you’re more likely to remember it too.


gap years and school


Your chance to stand out

One particular story comes to mind – a guy who’d worked as an International Volunteer Ranger on a volcano project in Hawaii. It was obvious what an incredible time he’d had there and how much he enjoyed telling people about it. But that’s not going to be the only benefit to his life. In his own words…

“If an employer is breezing through 200 potential applicants and comes across a CV with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a reference, they’re going to take a closer look.”

I knew that he’d be full of stories to last a lifetime from that summer, both in an interview room and in life. If there are less jobs to go round, or at least the ones people want to do, then it makes sense to use your time ensuring you’re the one whose CV gets to the top of the pile with something a little extra to offer potential employers.

Gap year inspiration

Loving the workaway placement in Conil, Spain

During my time at gapyear.com, and in the almost four years now that I’ve been travelling the world, the backpackers I’ve met have made sacrifices to achieve their dreams of travelling the world. They made the decision to venture out on these ‘trips of a lifetime’, then saved and slogged to afford them. They took the initiative to explore alone and in turn opened up to every new experience that came along. That’s an inspiration and an incredible feat in itself, no matter what they actually did there.

Any future employer can see that.

You never know what will happen on your gap year to put the course of your life on a different direction.

My travel journey

Going to the USA to work at summer camp aged 21 changed my life. I met so many incredible people, who I still count as friends today, and as cheesy as it sounds, it opened my eyes to the world. This cost a few hundred, which I earned working in a pub at university. I got free bed and board for three months in upstate New York, and a salary at the end of it to spend on one crazy week in Cancun, Mexico. I did this in my university summer, and more than a few close friends and family said I was a changed person when I returned. I certainly felt different.

Working at summer camp

I went back to summer camp the next year, and then on to Australia for two months to stay with my friends I’d made in both years at camp, for free. I guess this was my ‘gap year’ when I was young, although it only lasted six months. I then taught English in Madrid before doing an NCTJ journalism course, which finally got me a job in London. A few years of working, then a redundancy, and it was time to travel again with four months through Europe. The trip that eventually inspired me to write this blog, that had only been sparked by the sense of curiosity and adventure I’d got from meeting the people I did at that original summer camp.

Me and the kangaroo at Australia Zoo

I came back and worked and lived in London for four years while setting up my own business, vickyflipfloptravels.com, which I would later travel the world on from the profits.

Not bad for investing a university summer and a few hundred quid to do something different with my summer hey?

Why go on a gap year after high school?

For most people who go on a gap year it’ll be the best thing they ever do. For some it might not seem like it at the time, but when you return you’ll appreciate the incredible time you had and the benefits of throwing yourself into it will slowly show themselves. The people you meet, the food you taste, the sounds, smells, emotions, and the wealth of experiences you suck up are infinite.

gap year after high school

When I took off for camp at 19, having barely been out the country before, I could never have imagined what meeting the people I met there, and having the experiences I did, would do to my life. Without a doubt I was forever changed.

Gap years aren’t just for rich kids aged 18-21 to go off for a year and then come back to the rat race – the obligatory year abroad. Going travelling and exploring all your skills and interests away from what you’ve grown up with, or what you’ve got used to, and away from the pigeon holes life creates for you, will make you a stronger, wiser and generally more interesting person. No matter what your age, background, skillset or interests taking some time out abroad to appreciate them is well worth it.

Packing list for a beach holiday

For some taking a gap year after high school may just be an awesome year of their lives that they’ll remember with a laugh, but for others, like me, taking some time out will genuinely change their lives for the better.

I absolutely think that a gap year at 18 is a great idea worth looking into, but, if you’ve missed that boat, you can still make the most of your university holidays with some time off after uni, or a career break later on in life.

Gap years aren’t just for teenagers, they can be valuable whatever your age!

Read more on taking a gap year to boost your confidence and employability.

Did you take a gap year?
How old were you?
Any regrets?


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taking a gap year after school


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20 Comments

  1. by Chadwick on February 12, 2018  1:24 pm Reply

    If I could give one piece of advice to kids about to leave school and potentially start uni, it would be to take a year out. The benefits are all in this post, and you will NEVER again have the ability to easily just quit your life for a whole year and become who you thought you were.

    Worried about losing your place at uni? Don't be. Many (most?) unis will roll your place over to the following year. Even if they don't, when you reapply, you will already have your results, so there's no guessing about predicted grades. The unis will say a straight yes or no, and will be more likely to say yes because they don't have to guess if you'll get good enough grades. They also look favourably on the real world experience you've gained - they want confident, proactive people because you're more likely to do well at their course and boost their league table status. The experiences of a year travelling (or even just working in the UK) will put you head and shoulders above the kids just leaving school.

    Of course, there's always a risk that you find you could earn a respectable living teaching scuba diving on a tropical island, and you never come back....

    tl;dr - Take a year out. You won't regret it.

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 22, 2018  11:45 am Reply

      Absolutely 100% agree with what you've written here Chadwick, and thanks for backing me up on this. Gap years aren't for everyone but I think even if you're debating it a little bit you should definitely go for it. And if you don't, then make it a priority for later in life for sure!

  2. by Emma AKA Size15Stylist on February 12, 2018  10:04 pm Reply

    I absolutely believe that everyone should spend a year abroad... Just doing! I taught English in China for a few years, and learned so much about myself, about my skills, and absorbing so much. Plus, the food!

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  2:50 pm Reply

      Oh wow, China must've been an experience. I've still never been there. Sounds like you had a great year out – congrats!

  3. by Kate on February 13, 2018  9:09 am Reply

    Gap years weren't a thing when I graduated high school in 2004 (and I'm not sure they even are now), but I so wish they were. I think it's really important for people to figure out what they want to do/don't want to do before putting down all that money for University. There are so many options now, so why rush when you're not confident. I ended up taking a gap year at 29 and it was amazing. Better late than never, I guess.

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • by Chadwick on February 13, 2018  12:34 pm Reply

      They absolutely were a thing in 2004! They were a thing 15 years earlier when I did mine (and totally failed to make any good use of it - one of my biggest regrets). Perhaps there just wasn't as much information around (like Vicky's blog) to help us plan it - I'm pretty sure that's why I didn't have the confidence or inspiration to just take off by myself.

      • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  10:42 am Reply

        Yeah, I guess back then there wasn't the inspiration sites and posts to show you what you could do. Also, travel wasn't such a big thing. Back then it was more about possessions than experiences. I'm sure you did what was right at the time Chadwick. I'm sure we'd do at least 50% of our lives differently if we had a second time at it!

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  2:51 pm Reply

      Definitely with you on the figuring out thing. There's so much pressure to go to university but it's not for everyone and some people just need a bit more time before setting down all that money. You've just got to do what's right for you, although at that age it can sometimes be hard to work out.

  4. by golden triangle tour with khajuraho and varanasi on February 14, 2018  6:57 am Reply

    That's really very nice and you are having very amazing time, make the most out of it.

  5. by Monica on February 14, 2018  11:01 am Reply

    YES! I totally agree - everyone should take a gap year. But I'm glad I did mine when I was 21 and not 18. I didn't realise it at the time but I was SO young at 18 and I wouldn't have made the most of it. I was probably too shy and nervous to do a lot too. The course I did at uni was a complete waste of time but I learned a lot just by being at uni so I'm glad I went...although that student loan is still killing me!

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  10:34 am Reply

      Yeah, when I look back I was definitely young at 18, but I'm sure I thought I was old enough at the time! So glad I went to Camp America when I did – definitely one of those decisions that totally changes your life course. I think when it comes to choosing your uni course, if you're not sure, then a year out can totally help. It'll show you what you're interested in away from what other influences think you'e interested in, or good at, and you can be a bit more independent in your choice. Now that degrees are so expensive you kinda need to be sure on first application, or at least 99%. So glad I didn't have to pay the fees they do now!

  6. by Rachel on February 14, 2018  11:28 am Reply

    I did my first (!) gap year in 2002 and it was the best decision ever. As some clever bloke once said, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" ... I had some of the most amazing experiences, saw awe-inspiring things, met incredible people BUT when times got tough like I was in hospital, running out of money, lost etc I had to rely on myself, my own inner strength and resources to get through it. I feel like I returned home a stronger more resilient and well-rounded human. And it absolutely DID help with gaining my first grad job, I was asked about my travels in every interview and talked with passion about the places I'd been and all the life lessons I'd learnt. I'm not sure you'd be able to do that about uni/school no matter how much you loved your studies.

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  10:30 am Reply

      Travelling DEFINITELY makes you stronger and more resilient. When I was employing people in my last role I totally looked at what they'd done with their gap year, and where they'd been travelling. The skills and traits you have to draw on to travel successfully, alone or with people, will always serve you well in life, even just the ability to be by yourself, or to talk to people from all over the world. Yay for gap years, whatever your age!

  7. by Steve Biggs on February 14, 2018  11:46 am Reply

    Did I take a gap year pre/post university? - No
    Did I wish I had? - Yes (although I then wouldn’t have the same good Uni Friends I have now ... but would have had different ones now I guess!)
    Did I ever take a gap year? Yes - at 33 (best thing I’ve ever done and I appreciated it a lot more at that age as a result)

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  10:26 am Reply

      Yeah, that's the thing, you can't really regret not going because you wouldn't be where you are now (provided you're happy) but I think it's normal to wonder what might've been, and to think about what you would've done. I'm glad you took one at 33 though, and yes, it's obviously going to be different from the kind of one you'd have at 18. You've had more time to think about what you'd do and maybe have more appreciation for what you see too. I'm all for taking one after retirement too – saving for that fund :).

  8. by Ivy on February 14, 2018  3:21 pm Reply

    So true. I never took a gap year after high school, but encouraged my son to do so, and what a year it was for him. You can learn so much from traveling and taking a year to explore. So happy he was able to do it. Now he's focusing on college and getting his degree with a big smile on his face, because he took some time to explore and enjoy before the hard work began again.

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  10:18 am Reply

      See, that's when taking a gap year works out perfectly. A nice break from study to give you the feeling that you've had some time out before settling down to the books again. I'm glad he had a great time and wish him luck with the degree :).

  9. by Rebecca on February 16, 2018  9:51 pm Reply

    I couldn’t agree more - unfortunately I never got the chance. We just didn’t have the money so I was straight into university (while working 2 or 3 jobs) and then straight into full-time work. I still regret it now and am planning to do it one day... I’m getting closer to 35 though!! But as you say, it can be done at any age.

    • by VickyFlipFlop on February 21, 2018  10:08 am Reply

      Yeah definitely. I was kind of focusing on going on one after school, just for this post, but I'm living proof that you can take one at any age. Where there's a will there's a way, and all that.

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