Should you take a Gap Year?

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, the year following graduation is good time to take a break to think and to plan your next career move. Taking a year off before you enter your chosen field is often easier than trying to do it once you’ve already been working for a number of years. Figure out what you’d really like to do, then come back ready to jump in refreshed and re-focused.

What is a gap year?

Taking a “Gap Year” has become a popular option for graduating students. It’s one of the best ways to see life from a fresh perspective. A gap year typically involves travelling away from home to backpack alone or with friends, or participating in a structured volunteer/internship program. A gap year can also be an enriching interval during which you build on current skills or develop new ones. Depending on your situation, a gap year can be unpaid, where you spend time exploring or volunteering, or it can be a paid position, either in your chosen field, or in an area you’d like to explore.

A gap year is a great way to:

  • Learn or improve on skills in another language
  • Reflect on your life, values, interests and future goals
  • Meet new friends, gain contacts and build your resume
  • Expand your horizons and explore other cultures, customs, beliefs and professional practices
  • Try an internship or a short term placement to ‘test out’ a different career area, or try something you’ve always wanted to do
  • Earn money—if you choose to work—to bring back and possibly put towards future accommodations, education, or to start up in your home base
  • Discover things that cannot be taught in a classroom
  • Collect amazing stories to tell your friends, and great photos to post on Flickr

Is a gap year right for you?

A gap year is not for everyone—it depends on your priorities, preferences, and financial situation. For you, it may be more important to get started in your field. Or you may decide against taking a year off because of a great opportunity you don’t want to miss, or because of concerns about the job market or falling behind. Figure out what’s important to you through research, talking to others who have been through a similar experience, meeting with a U of T career counsellor, and other U of T resources (see below).

Financial considerations include questions such as: can you afford to go a year with low or even no wages, if you have student loans to repay, will you be able to keep your commitments, and where and how will you live once you return home? If you are travelling or living alone, think about your personal safety.

Consider also that there will be an adjustment phase when you return home from your time away. You may not want to plan the details of this phase in advance, but keep in mind that things will be different for both you and others when you get back. Give some thought as to where you will live and immediate sources of income when you return.

Marketing your “gap year” skills to employers

You don’t want employers to notice a “gap” on your resume, so don’t be shy about incorporating your backpacking or other gap year activities. Volunteering for a cause and exploring diverse cultures are looked at favourably as more and more employers seek candidates who are multi-faceted and culturally aware. Any paid, travel, or volunteer experience can be included on your resume and will be seen in a positive light as long as you indicate how you grew and benefited. During job interviews, be prepared to describe the transferable personal and technical skills that you developed.

How to make it happen

  • Decide what you want from the experience—the freedom to explore a new city/country, or the opportunity to get involved with a specific issue or initiative. That will dictate what your final excursion will look like.
  • Determine whether you’d like your experience to take place overseas, or if there are opportunities in Canada that interest you.
  • Create a rough timeline for before and during the trip including all preparations in order to leave such as saving enough money and getting a passport, and what you will do once you get there.
  • Create a budget. Think about travel expenses, food and accommodations, and currency exchange rates.
  • Ask family and friends that have travelled in that area before about their recommendations for you.
  • Do your research. If you are thinking about going abroad with a specific organization, understand what your responsibilities are, and what the organization is responsible for.
  • If there’s a fee requirement, find out what the money will be used for. If you will be required to fundraise on your own, ensure that you have the time to do so.
  • Talk to people that have completed a similar program.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

A gap year can be a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a rewarding and memorable period of personal development and exploration that can help to re-focus your career and your future.

U of T Resources

To help you weigh the pros and cons and make the right choices, U of T offers the following resources:

Career Centre staff at all three campuses are available to assist with planning for a gap year
Employment coaches can meet with students one-on-one ( UTM | UTSC | St. George ).

Going Abroad Tip Sheet and Resources from UTM Career Centre (PDF)

University of Toronto Safety Abroad Travel Guide
If you are considering going abroad, whether to work, volunteer, or travel, it is important to be as prepared as possible. U of T’s Centre for International Experience Safety Abroad Office provides information on choosing an option that is right for you, budgeting and money matters, preparing documents, health issues, emergency and supporting information, packing, travel tips, safety issues, and other matters such as culture shock and diversity.

Career Centre Resource Materials (St. George Campus)

  • The Gap Year Book, Lonely Planet
  • Guide to teaching Abroad, Kate S. Brooks
  • How to Serve & Learn Abroad Effectively: Students Tell Students, H.A. Berry
  • Jobs for People Who Love to Travel: Opportunities at Home and Abroad , Ron and Caryl Krannich
  • Working Abroad
  • 101 Ways to Find an Overseas Job, Francine Moaderno
  • Beyond Borders: Global Opportunities and You
  • Careers in International Business, Edward J. Halloran
  • Complete Guide to International Jobs and Careers, R. Krannich
  • GenXpat, Margaret Malewski
  • How to Get a Job with a Cruise Line, Mary Fallon Miller
  • How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas, Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega and Zahara Heckscher
  • Jobs in Japan, John Wharton
  • Jobs for People Who Love to Travel: Opportunities at Home and Abroad, Ron and Caryl Krannich
  • Live and Work in France, Victoria Pybus
  • Taking Time Off, Colin Hall & Ron Lieber
  • The Global Citizen, Elizabeth Kruempelmann
  • The International Directory of Voluntary Work, David Woodworth
  • What in the World is Going On? A Guide for Canadians Wishing to Work, Volunteer or Study in Other Countries, Alan Cumyn
  • Who’s Who in International Development
  • …And many, many more

Additional Resources

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is a wealth of information for Canadians going abroad.

The materials for the Gap Year story were kindly provided by Suhan Hanifa (Employment Coach) and Tasleem Hudani (Work Experience Coordinator) of the University of Toronto Career Centre on the St. George campus.

Photographs courtesy of U of T’s Centre for International Experience.

Taking a gap year?

Volunteering for a cause and exploring diverse cultures are looked at favourably as more and more employers seek candidates who are culturally aware.