Mind the Gap: Should You Take a Gap Year?

Taking a gap year after graduation may be just what you need to prepare yourself for the working world.
Carmen Teh
Writer, gradsingapore

The days nearing graduation are especially tough for soon-to-be graduates. They have to face the stress of choosing the right career path, followed by the pressure of landing the right job with the right employer.

Transitioning into the working world as a fresh graduate is not easy and it is something that requires a lot of preparation. Unfortunately, however, graduates make the mistake of not giving it enough time and thought because they feel obliged to start working as soon as possible.

Rushing your job planning might cause you to make career decisions that do not align with your long-term goals and personality. To avoid making this mistake, graduates can consider taking some time off to plan and prepare before taking the plunge into the working world.

What you can do with a gap year

Taking a gap year will give you the time you’ll need to figure things out and prepare for your long career journey ahead.

Here are some things you can achieve by taking a year off after graduation:

1. Decide what you want to do

‘What do I want to do?’ is a simple but tricky question that’s imperative for graduates to explore. However, it’s not something that can be figured out overnight.

Some students may have been aware of their career aspirations at an earlier stage, while others are still learning about different career paths and what fits them best even months after graduation. After all, with some courses being more rigorous than others, not all students have the time or capacity to really think about their career goals and plans while they’re still studying.

As such, a gap year will help students reflect on the type of career they want, the kind of company culture they will fit into, as well as their long- and short-term career goals and what they need to do to achieve them.

2. A gap to bridge skills gap

During the process of figuring out the kind of career you want, you may find that there are areas you need to improve on in order to get the job, or make yourself more competitive.

For instance, you graduated with an Electronic and Electrical Engineering degree but you have decided that you want to pursue a career in web development. While you have the theoretical knowledge of the subject from an elective module you took in school, you need to make yourself a worthy job candidate by gaining the relevant skills and experience.

Knowing what you want to achieve and identifying where you fall short are important. By taking a gap year, you can focus on making up for what you lack – and gain practical skills through work experience, such as part-time jobs and internships.

Alternatively, you can invest your time on online learning platforms, such as Udemy or Coursera, where courses for specific skills are made available for all. Some courses provide a certificate upon completion of the programme, which can be useful to show prospective employers that you have the skillset required for the job.

3. Personal development

If you already have the technical skills and work experience for the job and industry you want to pursue, it may be beneficial for you to take a gap year to gain transferable skills.

You can develop and refine your personal strengths through volunteer experiences or traveling abroad. Not only can these be ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences, you will also able to gain several transferable skills and positive personal traits.

These include personal finance management, independence, time management, and the ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds (if you are volunteering or working abroad). Such skills and experiences will make you stand out from the sea of candidates, as these show your determination for self-discovery and your motivation to widen your horizons.

Things to consider

While there are benefits to taking a gap year, there are a few things you also need to consider.

  • Expenses
    Needless to say, without a job, you won’t be getting an income. For you to be able to sustain your gap year, you will need financial support.

    If you are able to successfully convince your family to help you out, then good for you! But if you prefer to be independent and support yourself, you can try doing a part-time job while gaining relevant technical skills on online learning platforms.

    Also, if working or traveling abroad is something you want to do during your gap year, you can join work and travel abroad (or work and holiday) programmes. These programmes allow participants to gain international exposure and transferable skills, while also earning an income to support their travels in a foreign country.
  • Self-motivation is key 
    One year is quite a long time. If you don’t plan out the year well or fail to follow through on your plans, you might end up in an awkward situation in which you are unable to justify your gap year to future employers.

    Prospective employers will notice that you have been unemployed for quite some time since you’ve graduated, and will question you about it. If you have no achievements to show, employers will just assume that you simply decided to slack off.

    Hence, it is important for you to have a concrete plan for your gap year, and keep yourself motivated to follow through on your plan. Break things down to measurable, smaller goals.

    This will be useful because even if you don’t reach your ultimate goal at the end of your gap year, you still have your smaller achievements to showcase to employers.