Gap years are not a ‘waste of time’

They don’t lack substance and they don’t hold you back

For our generation, the gap year is widely accepted as a good thing. It’s a break, it’s a laugh, it’s a bit of freedom after school.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP, one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, doesn’t agree. In a damning speech at the Global Education Forum in Dubai, he railled against anyone who’s ever been travelling, announcing he “doesn’t believe in gap years”. Note: they’re not a myth. More than 2 million Brits go on one every year. But he’s opposed.

“Gap years, from what I’ve seen, tend to be wasted,” he said. “People go to Japan for three months to teach English, or six months, and the rest of the time got wasted.”

Sorrell’s main criticism is that gap years tend to be too short and aren’t worthwhile. Personally, my gap year paid for my masters degree via a series of low-paid manual jobs which also – conveniently – made me realise my physique is better suited to an office. It delivered me to parts of Europe I’d only seen pictures of, and do most of my sleeping on slow-moving trains (a pretty formative experince).

And taking a gap year rarely comes up in job interviews – unless, in my experience, the interviewer is genuine interested and supportive of the decision.

Admittedly this photo couldn’t be any more ‘gap year’

The advertising guru is forgetting  that you can fit a lot of new experiences into a few months of travelling. You could see all of Europe’s capitals or cover most of India. You can experience different cultures and makes you realise there’s more to life than middle England and the annual holiday abroad.  An academic study from John Hopkins university claimed that people who took time out to travel had “reimagined their role in the world”.

This does sound like a more scientific way of saying people who go on gap years “find themselves”, but the joke is rooted in reality. Seeing different cultures will make us see our own very differently.

In the same speech Sorrell does concede that “travelling is in and of itself an education”, but when are we supposed to do it? Few jobs will hand you more than a month of annual leave, and taking a “sabbatical” rarely exists within the corporate working world. More research from Finland suggests it won’t hold back your success in any way, so just do it.

Taking a gap year is only a waste of time if you consider it to be.