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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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looks like Dr Davies is having a "gap life". Three degrees just smacks of avoiding real life.
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 !
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wish Vanessa would go on a gap year herself and give us all a break.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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