How To Make The Most Of Your Gap Year - SACAP
Applied Psychology

How to make the most of your gap year

Jan 25, 2023 | By Saranne Durham
How to make the most of your gap year

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into university or college. But are you really ready to go? Do you know what you want to study and why you want to study it? For many students, taking a gap year after matric proves invaluable. It gives them time to think through and explore career options. Thus, often a gap year can help you thrive when you go and study because you’re more focused.

Why take a Gap Year?

The future advantage of taking a gap year is supported by American professor and higher-education expert, Jeffrey Selingo, in his bestselling There is Life After College. His research found that a gap year can be critical to helping students form their own understanding of why they’re pursuing tertiary studies. And what they want once they get there. This is why he insists that “We shouldn’t rush this transition.”

“Taking a gap year can have a great impact on the success of future implicating decisions.”

Selingo is not alone in his argument for taking time off. Many international universities, including the illustrious Harvard, encourage “admitted students to defer enrolment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work or spend time in another meaningful way.”

Evidence appears to back them up. Studies conducted on nearly 7 000 students by researchers at the University of Western Australia’s Business School found that gap-year students have marks 2.3% higher than those students who go straight to university after school. Researchers believe students who take time off before furthering their studies discover where their true interests and talents lie. This, in turn, helps them bring a more mature outlook to their education in the future.

5 Pros of a Gap Year

  1. Setting Yourself Up: Earning an income can help you be better prepared for studying. For example, it could enable you to have a car to get to class more efficiently. Or it could mean that you have savings to draw upon.
  2. Increased Odds of Successful Studying: Many students who first take a structured gap year fair better than those that don’t. As a result of their gap year, they tend to be more confident. As such, they have a self-driven motivation which translates into a lower risk of dropping out.
  3. Work Experience: Work experience is far more than simply a valuable addition to your CV. It teaches you about the kind of person you are. And, as a result, which work setting is best suited for your future career.
  4. Regroup and Discover: Changing pace and experiencing new places, cultures and people will expand your understanding of the world. And thereby, helping you to know how you want to fit into it.
  5. Creating Life-Long Memories: Being based at home, working within your home country or travelling overseas can all result in great stories and life-long memories. Ideally, a gap year should result in many happy moments and experiences to recall later.

“A Structured gap year can provide excellent ‘real life’ experience while you’re taking time to decide what to study.”

5 Cons of a Gap Year

  1. Opposition to Your Decision: While you don’t need to justify your decision, having good reasons for taking a gap year are important. If you’re doing it just to have a good time, you are probably not going to benefit from taking a year off.
  2. It takes a lot of Planning: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of gap year options and end up jumping from one thing to another thereby losing the inherent value of a gap year. The reality is the effort spent planning, researching and budgeting directly translates into the value of your gap year.
  3. Lose Track of Where You Need to be: A gap year turning into multiple gap years or not leading to future studies is a reality many discover.
  4. Potentially Costly: The cost of a gap year can vary dramatically depending on if you’re prepared to work or not.
  5. You’ll “Be Behind”: Taking a year off means that you will be a year behind many of your school friends when you go study. It also means that you’re likely to be studying when they start their first jobs and earning a proper salary.

“To get the most our of a gap year, plenty of planning, by the person taking it, needs to take place.”

Ways to Get the Most out of Your Gap Year

A gap year can yield many, many advantages, provided it’s well-planned and has structure. Here are some of the things you can do to better ensure that you get the most out of your gap year.

1. Structure and Planning

While a Gap year should be fun, it needs to have goals and a plan on how to achieve them. It should also have a defined timeframe of when your year ends and what you could think about doing afterwards. This way you can motivate and get the support you need to take time out. Also, it means you won’t waft around or waste time while you’re taking time out. And when it’s time to write up a CV, your gap year won’t be regarded as an extended vacation. But rather a worthwhile endeavour.

2. Gain valuable work experience

Use your time off to explore and experiment. Explore different types of work to see what you might like to pursue as a career in the long term. You could do voluntary work, an internship, or a paid part-time job during your gap year. It’s an invaluable time to use to see where you enjoy working and then use this to direct your study options.

3. Get better prepared academically

If you’re not academically burned out, consider taking a short course in your intended field. By doing stackable modules, you could even get a first-year credit or two out of the way. Doing so will allow you to get accustomed to the more rigorous, self-directed nature of tertiary studying. But not take on a full course load all at once while adjusting.

4. Broaden your horizons

Use this time to gain as much life experience as you can. Contrary to popular belief, travelling need not cost you an arm or a leg. Student exchanges and scholarships are all great options if you are on a tight budget. Exploring the great wide world will put you in contact with interesting people and different cultures. It’ll expand your horizons and give you international experience. All of which are significant assets in an increasingly global world.

5. Learn a language

In today’s global society, being able to communicate across cultures is becoming increasingly important. Employers – especially those in emerging markets – often operate with clients and partners from different countries. Therefore, being able to speak multiple languages can significantly increase your future job prospects.

“At the end of your gap year it is possible to be far better placed for studies and future job prospects than those who went straight from school to study.”

A Meaningful Gap Year

Your gap year should give you the mental space you need to reflect on what you do and don’t want from your tertiary studies, your career and, ultimately, your life. The real-world experience you gain during this time can help you to more clearly decide how to make your future goals a reality. That clarity can translate into a smoother transition to college or university. As well as a more direct path to choosing the degree that’s right for you.

SACAP’s Higher Certificate in Counselling and Communication Skills provides a meaningful way of using your gap year. This one-year vocational qualification serves as an excellent entry point into the field of psychology, human behaviour and mental health. For more information, click here.

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