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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Are gap years a waste of time?
Gap years have become increasingly popular as an option for post A-level students.

Traditionally they are seen as time out to travel between school and university, to learn life experiences and broaden horizons.

The most famous exponent is Prince William, who is currently on a gap year on a Raleigh International expedition.

But broadcaster Vanessa Feltz has called gap years a "farcical masquerade" with vast amounts of pressure being put on parents to fund such adventures.

Are gap years a waste of time? Or are they a worthwhile and necessary part of learning? Did you take a gap year? Was it worth it?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The reason we didn't take a gap year when we left school at 18 was because we couldn't afford to

John, UK
My son will be taking a gap year to try and build a financial cushion for when he does go to university. Whatever money is required will be funded solely by himself. He has two younger siblings and we cannot afford to fund his gap year. I have no difficulty with the concept of a gap year, providing it isn't just a year long party, and that it is financed by the person themselves. The reason we didn't take a gap year when we left school at 18 was because we couldn't afford to, and there simply were not the opportunities in the 70's that there are now.
John, UK

So long as you can finance any time off without recourse to state benefit, who is to say what any individual should or shouldn't do with their time? Harping on about kids using daddy's credit cards sounds like sour grapes to me. I actually believe that for many people the three or four years spent in higher education are a waste of public money and the degrees they get are worth less than the paper they are printed on. From a purely selfish perspective, I had a fabulous time at uni, getting slaughtered most of the time and getting involved in artistic/cultural activities I haven't been able to since. But in retrospect I can't see how that outlay of public funds has benefited anyone but me. Much respect to the guys and girls from my age group who went out and became brothers and sisters in honest toil!
John Adlington, UK

A gap year is what you make of it

Rhys Jaggar, England
A gap year is what you make of it. I learned a foreign language, became a good skier, immersed myself in literature for the first time in my life, loved being away from my parents and England and became a far happier and mature person. It also made me less prepared to conform to rules per say, a key reason why control freaks wish to stop gap years becoming so popular.
Rhys Jaggar, England

The concept of a gap year being a "waste of time" is a sad indictment of whoever it was who made that suggestion. People who take a gap year after school don't sit at home with their feet up, so whatever they are doing can't be called a waste of time. I took a year out between school and university in which I went to a college in Israel to pursue religious studies. I have friends who did the same as me and others who went to tour and work, do volunteer work etc. The experience we all gained was incredible and apart from that which in itself is "important" enough not to be called a "waste of time", it taught us lessons in independence and maturity that prepared us well for life.
Rafi, Israel (formerly UK)

I have to say that living out here I have seen gap years from a few different angles. We have had friends out here who are genuinely interested in the country its culture and all the marvellous things Asia has to offer. However I have also seen some turning up with Daddy's credit cards whose only aim is to get slaughtered in as many different countries as possible. You can do that in the student union much cheaper, perhaps that is what they learnt!
Carl Gavin, S.E.Asia

I saw things with my own eyes and had experiences not possible in any classroom

Christopher Shaw, Singapore (Expat)
15 years ago I spent my gap year working on a Kibbutz in Israel(no, I'm not Jewish). I've partied with Christian, Jew and Muslim alike under the same roof. Had serious debates that reading a book or watching the news could never have taught me. I made friends from all over the world and heard their stories first hand. I went there and saw things with my own eyes and had experiences not possible in any classroom. How can that possibly be a waste of time?
Christopher Shaw, Singapore (Expat)

I think a gap year is important. It gives people confidence and they can learn about other lives and even do something good. I did temping to earn the money and feel better as my parents didn't help me. I did it myself. Operation Raleigh is a great thing to do.
Jacinta, London

I am in the process of beginning my "gap year" which I decided I would do from 16 and so have always been saving. I'm working full time for more money before going to Mexico for 6 months. These are definite plans and since I'm going to uni to study languages not only will I gain a rewarding experience but priceless help towards my studies. I feel I will be ready to start at uni after what I think will be a hard earned break.
Laura, UK

I think gap years are a good idea if you feel you are not mature enough to cope with university. I'm doing a medical degree. My 'gap year' consisted of taking a year off to study for an intercalated BSc in neuroscience. I then returned to medicine. If you want to take a gap year, fine, but do something useful. And remember the opportunity cost to you is one years salary and experience in the workplace. Richard McMahon, UK.
Richard McMahon, UK

I must disagree with Amalan that the "gap year" is a product of western culture. In the US most people have never heard of the term. And, true to our workaholic nature, we Yanks would sanction a year off before university only to earn money for higher learning expenses.
Jane, USA

I have taken a gap 6 months at least every three to five years of my adult life and I am now 38. Taking time out from chasing a career to go out and discover how the world and its people live their lives is an endless source of interest and inspiration for me.
Pip, Australia

Looks like Dr Davies is having a "gap life". Three degrees just smacks of avoiding real life.
Graeme, Australia

Take a gap year but do something different!

Rachael Allan, England
I always regretted not taking a gap year, so at 28, 6 years after leaving university I am doing it now. I have travelled through NE/SE and Central Asia and am now in Australia looking for work along with what seems like a million other Brits!!! The trouble with taking a gap year at 18 is that you are in danger of just doing what everyone else does, i.e. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Oz, leaving New Zealand until the very end (which most people regret!) Take a gap year but do something different!
Rachael Allan, England

James Hender and Anthony Bullock are both brainwashed. Life isn't all about work, if you think like that then you may as well be dead since you do not help the world one bit, you are just another consumer ruining the earth, and teaching your children to do the same. SHAME ON YOU BOTH !
Niki Cox, UK

I have a postgrad degree and have worked for over twelve years - often seven days a week. In June 1999, my wife and I decided to take two years out to travel, read & hang out etc. It was the best, most liberating, 24 months we've ever had. We're better people - mentally, physically and socially. Gap years are the best thing anyone could do.
Mark, Hong Kong

Just the sort of thing that can cure you from routine, boring life

Vikas, USA
A gap year is fantastic thing... Just the sort of thing that can cure you from routine, boring life. Go on a national geographic adventure...backpack in Australia, listen to Savage Garden..(my version) Sleep under a tree.. love mother nature.. An open mind is the most creative..
Vikas, USA

Vanessa, as usual, clearly doesn't know what she's talking about. For someone responsible for some of the worst TV programmes in the UK, describing a gap year as a "farcical masquerade" is a bit hypocritical. I had two gap years one before university, one after. Taking a gap year is an immensely rewarding experience and I'd recommended it to everyone. Watching trash TV on the other hand, is something which benefits no-one except the fat cat presenters.
Andy, UK

In Britain it's only our class system and the 'innate' goal of climbing the career ladder that is acceptable and therefore the only measure of success. There are so many other options open to young people in the 21st century, why should we deny them the opportunity to make the right decision for their future?
Helen Kent, England

when has Vanessa Feltz ever said anything that's well thought out and based in fact?

Steve Thompson, London, England
I took a gap year and got a first. After 15 years solid studying (learning to count was hard) I needed a break. It was always my plan and saved what I earned in my part time job in McDonald's to fund it. I also have a Masters. So I don't think my gap year hurt me and it didn't hurt my parents either. Then again, when has Vanessa Feltz ever said anything that's well thought out and based in fact?
Steve Thompson, London, England

A gap year is for gaining work experiences etc so take the year and WORK it. But the important thing is to ENJOY IT, as you are only young once. My daughter worked as a rowsie (wool roller) in a sheep-shearing team, hard, dirty, smelly work. But she gained so much confidence and had a great time, which really helped her get established at university. Gap years are good if used properly - to gain experience.
Pete Brown, Scotland

Gap time is more of a western habit. People with too much time and affluence on their hands, without specific goals taking time off to laze around. The pretext of taking time off to rethink options is a colossal waste of time. 24 hours in a day is more than enough time to think of life and its options.
Amalan Alavandar, India

I've yet to meet anyone who has taken a gap year that thinks it was a bad idea

Steve Johnson, Scotland
I've yet to meet anyone who has taken a gap year that thinks it was a bad idea. It's a real shame that more don't have the imagination to do such a trip, instead throwing themselves head long into the university/career rat race. Having said that I don't think their parents should be expected to pay for it and anyone who's stayed in an Australian backpackers would know most of time spent on these trips is spent partying, and has absolutely nothing to do with learning about foreign cultures!
Steve Johnson, Scotland

The benefits of a gap year need cost nothing, the value can be immeasurable. School and University teach only a fraction of life's necessities.
Dan Coutin, USA (ex UK)

Gap YEAR? Why so short? You need at least two years to start seeing the big picture. The only people who think gap years are a waste of time are those who never took them.
Ryan Short, South Africa

Of course it is. I have three degrees to my name and have never needed a gap year. It's basically a year sitting on your backside when you could be working instead.
Dr. A. J. Davies, UK

Taking out year out to put everything into perspective and then returning to your exams, I think, gives students more of an incentive to revise that bit more, knowing the importance a little more.
Nigel, UK

As I am writing this, I am on the last day of my gap year and I can say that it has been the most important year of my life to date. I am now going back to university with a much wider knowledge base and I have gained a lot of discipline as well. I would whole-heartedly recommend taking a year out to anyone.
James Whitby, England

In the right context I think they are beneficial

Tracy, Scotland
I didn't take a gap year before I went to uni, but in the right context I think they are beneficial. I wish I had taken one. As I went to uni to do a course I was not sure about, the gap year maybe would have provided me with the time and life experience to make a more informed choice. I don't agree that they are extended holidays - had I taken one, it would have been self-funded as was my entire time at uni. As it is, I completed my degree but not till I had quit uni 3/4 of the way through, and finished it part-time whilst working full-time.
Tracy, Scotland

If one's only goal in life is to become a successful businessman, then maybe it is better to scoff at gap years and recommend others to do likewise. However, to denigrate the vast range of experience and knowledge to be gained by such undertakings - as proven in other contributions to this forum - is to trivialise a lot of what our world has to offer, if one is just prepared to rustle up the courage and initiative and go out and experience it at first hand.
Mark, Switzerland

My husband and many others like him had a gap year (2 years actually). It was called National Service at the time. It too broadened horizons.
Looking back, England

I think they are nothing more than a waste of time

Dave R, UK
Having seen several of my good mates go abroad to do the gap year thing, I think they are nothing more than a waste of time. Sure, exploring round Brazil or Thailand for six months is fun, but the only education everyone gets is how to order drinks in other languages. When they return, they are desperate to find another escape from 'this boring country' and are de-motivated about the idea of university life. If you want to go to uni, do it now and don't think putting it off for a year will make it better. But, being a 9-5 work-monkey, I have to say that the idea of going away to a tropical paradise for 6-12 months does have a certain something going for it...
Dave R, UK

I am about to go on a gap year to Canada in November and I would just like to say that I organised it myself and will be paying for it myself - I have already raised the money by working solidly over the last 3 months. I feel I need to go and explore my limits etc. away from my comfort zone. I think that if I was to go to uni in Oct/Sept I would not be able to work to my full capacity.
Henry, UK

I took a year off to go abroad where I worked, saved up and practised the language I went on to study. My parents were not in a position to support me financially at the time, so most of my energies were concentrated on surviving. It has proved tremendously beneficial, but nevertheless I wouldn't want to force it on anybody. It's a very tough proposition for an 18-year-old to become self-sufficient in a foreign culture and, although I had a good time, I do feel it probably forced me to grow up quicker than I was comfortable with. Nobody should be done down for not wanting to go and I wouldn't begrudge those that do go away any help their parents might be able to give them.
B. Vaughan, UK

If you want to take a gap year, fund it yourself

Lisa, UK
The thing I object to about gap years is all the letters in my local paper begging for money so students can have a year's holiday. If you want to take a gap year, fund it yourself. I don't expect anyone to pay for my holidays so don't expect me to pay for anyone else's.
Lisa, UK

Everybody and especially young people should travel when they can. The years go by quickly and before you know it the opportunity to travel and see the world is gone. I'm 26 and certainly haven't even done half the travel I'd like to. Studying abroad for one year of a degree course in another country is maybe even better. My mate works in a pub in Turin and when I was over in January it was full of English, Irish and Scots who were studying a year over there. Better to spend nighttime in a pub in another city than your boring local with the same faces. Lifelong friends are made as well as everything else. I can't really see any disadvantage to a gap year.
Paul Geraghty, Ireland

Gap years are probably okay for those whose parents are wealthy enough to subsidise them but for the average family however, it is unreasonable, in my opinion, for school leavers to expect their parents to foot the bill for what largely amounts to one long holiday. Also, many students who curtail their studies often find it difficult to get their momentum going again after experiencing life away from their books. In short they are not a great idea.
Shaun Prior, Scotland

Why anyone would discourage a well-used year out is beyond my comprehension

Robert Bailey, UK/ USA
By the time I was 18 and had finished my A-levels, I had had enough of school. The thought of 4 years studying engineering was not exactly appealing. I took a 'gap year' and worked for 4 months before travelling to Israel and working on a kibbutz. I had the best ever time of my life meeting new people and having new experiences. I returned 6 months later refreshed and ready to study my degree in engineering and with a knowledge of life others on my course missed out on. Why anyone would discourage a well used year out is beyond my comprehension.
Robert Bailey, UK (currently residing in USA)

Well, Vanessa Feltz thinks gap years are farcical masquerades, does she? I never had a gap year, but when my son is older I'll encourage and support him to step off the treadmill of learning/ exams / working for a while and discover parts of the world where the needs of the economy take a back seat to the needs of human beings. Oh yes, I'll also encourage him to disagree with la Feltz as a point of principle - a stance I adopted some years ago, I might add.
Deepak Puri, Sheffield, England

Gap years aren't just about going on "adventures" to exotic places. It's a chance for people to experience real life, maybe get work experience or earn money. I wish I had a gap year when I left sixth form. With hindsight I was too young at 18 to know what I wanted and where I was going. In the end, after depression and soul searching, I decided to leave and go into the "real" world. After all, academic life isn't "real". And I see people year after year going through what I did and I think they should have had a chance to enjoy a year where they don't have to worry about essays, grades and bills.
Laura, UK

I'd definitely encourage anyone to do this, but to do it thoughtfully and carefully

Jenny, Scotland
I took my gap year after university, and wouldn't have missed it for the world. I didn't go off on a funded adventure but worked for 6 months to save money, then set off to travel, explore and work whilst discovering not only new countries, cultures and ways of life, but I also learnt an awful lot about myself. I'd definitely encourage anyone to do this, but to do it thoughtfully and carefully.
Jenny, Scotland

I wish Vanessa would go on a gap year herself and give us all a break.
Jerry Lynn, UK

I spent my gap year drinking and partying. So from a career point of view it was a waste of time. But by the time I got to university I was all partied out and was able to concentrate on my studies while others were out on the town.
Ed Barker, UK

It has taught me more valuable lessons than the last six years of schooling

Aidan Harris, UK
I was forced to take a gap year at the last minute, against my intentions, to teach English to Tibetans. Now I can't imagine what I'd be like if I hadn't. I think gap years are invaluable in allowing young people time to think about the direction they would like to take, even if it is just a year of working to get some cash. There is far too much pressure at A-level stage to narrowly define one's future career path, without drawing on personal experience of the world or workplace. My experience taught me how to survive any situation and I haven't lived with or relied financially on my parents since. It has taught me more valuable lessons than the last six years of schooling.
Aidan Harris, UK

I did 2 mandatory gap years in the Greek Cypriot army. The same happens in Greece, Israel etc. English kids are spoilt.
Yiannis Christodoulides, Cyprus

Gap years should be compulsory! I spent the first half of mine working to raise money for the good part whilst my fresher friends partied at uni. Then I spent six-months teaching in Nepal - there I learnt the most important lessons of my life to date. We just don't realise how cocooned our society is from the harsh realities that affect so many people. Despite this almost daily struggle for survival, the Nepalis are some of the most friendly, hospitable and happy people you are ever likely to meet. It really helped me to put the important things in life first.
Thom Leggett, UK

Asking parents to spend money on what is nothing but an extended holiday is unfair

Bobina, Spain
I see them as a complete waste of time and money unless the purpose of the break is to work in order to fund future studies. Asking parents to spend money on what is nothing but an extended holiday is unfair and with the added burden of tuition fees very unreasonable. Those who think that a gap year will help them enter adulthood, experience the world etc should recall their first year at university. Now that is an experience!
Bobina, Spain

I took a gap year before university and funded it myself - in fact I used it to save up some money to be able to support myself at uni. As a consequence, I got through the first year with no debt (wish I could say the same for the other years!). I did find that there was a difference between those who had taken a gap year and those who had not, which I thought was a positive difference. It can be a great experience and like pretty much anything else if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Decide what you want to do well in advance, plan it out and a gap year becomes more than just a 'gap' between work and uni. University isn't like school and I think a taste of real world is a real help.
Russ, UK

Great thing to do, although I think that it is a unique opportunity to do something practical, rather than travel exclusively. Why not teach, build or help in a community instead of going on an extended holiday. I tell you one thing for sure, employers love it.
Chris, UK

Get your degree first!!

Jo, UK
In 1989 I decided not to have a gap year between A-levels and university, but get all my education completed beforehand. I am very glad I did because I don't think I would have gone back to university! I funded my own travelling experience as my parents were pensioners and had a wonderful year away safe in the knowledge that I already had my degree. Also, I was able to have much more fun at 21 than I would have done at 18, as a lot of countries, (notably the US) don't allow drinking at 18, and car hire was much easier. I would encourage any young person to go out and explore the world before settling down, but get your degree first!!
Jo, UK

I didn't take a gap year between leaving school and attending the "University of Life" and it hasn't done me any harm - I am now a successful businessman with a beautiful family. Youngsters today are pampered enough as it is without "gap years". I only hope that my own children have more sense.
Anthony Bullock, UK

I agree with Vanessa Feltz. It is an excuse to put off real life for another year. Most students use the year as a long holiday and are indulged by their parents because their friends are going. Gap years should be banned and replaced with placements where the student has to work for a living.
James Hender, England

Watch BBC's Breakfast News debate
Gap years: A farcical masquerade?
See also:

13 Sep 00 | Education
More students opt for 'gap year'
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