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10 famous people who took gap years

There are lots of times you might want to take some time out, whether it’s before further study, before starting your career, or in between jobs. And sometimes a break can be more beneficial than trying to push on when you’re already burnt out or uninspired. In this blog, we’ll look at some examples of 10 famous people who took gap years and went on to be hugely successful.

10 famous people who took gap years

If you or your parents need some convincing that a gap year isn’t a bad thing, have a quick look at this list – it could help change your minds.

Steve Jobs

The co-founder, chief executive, and chairman of Apple famously dropped out of college to spend a year in India. He spent months meditating in the mountains and learning how to tap into what was important to him, before returning home and revolutionising the world of technology with the invention of the Mac. Interestingly, the only class he ended up taking in his short time at college was a calligraphy class – and it did end up being useful to him later, as he describes:

“Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the “normal” classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class … It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life, but ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me—and we designed it all into the Mac.

If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”

– Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Malia Obama

Feeling like she needed to spend some time out of the shadow of her dad, former US President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter decided to take a gap year between finishing school and heading off to further study. She travelled South America and experienced real life first-hand: staying in local homestays, taking public transport, and volunteering wherever she could.

Emma Watson

Probably known best for her role in the wildly successful Harry Potter film series, a less-known fact about Emma Watson is that she decided to move away from acting in 2016 to focus on personal development and her interest in gender issues instead. What started as a gap year turned into several gap years, but during this time she accomplished many incredible things, including starting a feminist book club, launching a legal helpline for people who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, travelling internationally to advocate for the education of girls, investing in sustainable alternatives to petrochemical products, and more.

Prince William

Even royalty need a break sometimes! While his father didn’t really approve, Prince William was determined to experience life outside the palace. His gap year consisted of British Army training exercises in Belize, working on dairy farms in England, visiting charities in Africa, and ten weeks teaching children in southern Chile. He also spent a fair bit of time scrubbing toilets (true story) and even had a go at being a local DJ.

Benedict Cumberbatch

British actor Benedict Cumberbatch has had a varied and successful career, which he attributes not to his education, but to the year he spent teaching English to Tibetan Buddhist monks in India. While there he threw himself into the culture and lifestyle, learning to meditate and tapping into his spiritual side. This is what he had to say about his gap year:

“They were amazingly warm, intelligent, humorous people. Hard to teach English to. I built a blackboard, which no previous teachers seem to have done. With twelve monks in a room, with an age range of about eight to forty, that’s quite important. But they taught me a lot more than I could possibly ever teach them.

They taught me about the simplicity of human nature, but also the humanity of it, and the ridiculous sense of humour you need to live a full spiritual life.”

– Benedict Cumberbatch, Interview with Lion’s Roar

Amazingly, he would return to the Himalayas many years later to film Doctor Strange, where he took some time off filming to reconnect with the culture and tradition that had inspired him.

Hugh Jackman

After finishing school, Hugh Jackman decided to delay going to university to instead work as a teaching assistant in the UK. At one point, he was even in the classroom teaching 14 year olds. He returned home to study a Bachelor of Communications at UTS. In his final year he enrolled in a drama class because he’d heard it was “easy to pass” – but it ended up changing the trajectory of his career. “In that week I felt more at home with those people than I did in the entire three years at university,” he said.

Ed Sheeran

When you’re topping charts with your music, touring the world, and have just been named artist of the decade, it might seem a bit strange to want to leave it all behind. But that’s exactly what Ed Sheeran did in 2016, announcing that he was taking time off from music and public life to simply “travel, write and read”. He spent time roadtripping in Australia, bungy jumping in New Zealand, white water rafting in Fiji, and watching the northern lights in Iceland.

Bradley Cooper

Many years before his acting career took off, Bradley Cooper decided to spend 6 months as an exchange student in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. Why? Just to learn French, of course!

“When I was a kid, I remember watching Chariots of Fire. And French is the official language of the Olympics. So there’s a scene where a guy was speaking French and I thought, ‘Man, that sounds so cool. I want to learn French.’”

Bradley Cooper, Interview with PEOPLE

Mark Zuckerberg

It’s one of the most successful social media sites in history, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing at Facebook. Amidst tough competition and intense buyout pressure in 2008, Mark Zuckerberg took some advice from his friend and fellow tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs – do what I did and take some time off to travel. So he spent a month travelling India and reflecting on his career, before returning to make Facebook bigger than ever.

Charles Darwin

After dropping out of medical school and neglecting his studies to become a clergyman, Charles Darwin received an invitation to an expedition around the coast of South America that would change the course of history. Despite his father’s objections, Darwin decided to go anyway, and it was on this voyage that he formed his theory of evolution. He described the trip as “by far the most important event in my life. It determined my whole career.”

Taking a gap year could pay off

Remember, a gap year isn’t a break from learning altogether; it’s just a break from traditional forms of learning like school and university. Spent the right way, a gap year can have great benefits for you professionally, academically, and personally.

If the stories of these 10 famous people who took gap years still didn’t quite win you over, you can read more about the advantages of a gap year on our website here.


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