You’ve finally finished Matric, and you can’t decide what you want to study next year (or even whether you want to study at all). If this sounds like you, a gap year could be the perfect solution!

Today, a gap year can be taken anywhere, for any length of time, doing almost anything you want: from building an orphanage in Malawi or teaching English as a foreign language in Thailand, to au pairing for a family in Switzerland. A gap year is constructive time out to travel and gain experience in-between life stages. It usually involves travelling, volunteering, or working overseas.

How long is a Gap Year?

A gap year usually lasts for 12 months, while you figure out what you want to do with your life. However, you don’t have to take the full year off. You could decide to start studying after a 6-month break. Alternatively, you might find your ideal career path while you are overseas, and decide not to come back at all.

The Pros of a Gap Year

  • It gives you the chance to gain relevant work experience in a particular field, and it shows a potential employer that you are independent and able to look after yourself.
  • It gives you the opportunity to see the world and to gain valuable life experience.
  • It’s probably the longest ‘holiday’ you will ever be able to take in your life – taking long breaks will be harder once you start working full-time.

The Cons of a Gap Year

  • If you take a gap year, you will be a year behind your friends who start studying straight away.
  • If you don’t plan your gap year properly, you may end up spending all that time at home, instead of using it constructively.
  • If you take a year off from studying, you may struggle to find the motivation to start studying again.

Top tips for making the most of your Gap Year:

  • Do your research – speak to people who’ve been there and done it.
  • Take time to plan and prepare – it can take 9 – 12 months to plan your gap year and to raise money, so make sure you give yourself time to prepare.
  • Be open-minded – a gap year is all about new experiences.
  • Use the time to make contacts – this is an important time to develop networks that could help you in your future career. Get onto the message boards and see if anyone is planning a similar trip to yours.
  • Consider taking a short course during your gap year to help you decide what you want to study the following year.

Whether you see a gap year as backpacking, working part-time, or taking time out to experience new things, it’s all about living life to the full and realising that there is a world of opportunity out there just waiting to be explored.

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Note: This article was originally published on 22 November 2014, and has been updated for relevance and accuracy.