Applied Psychology

How to make the most of your gap year

Sep 08, 2020 | 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? For many students, taking a gap year after matric proves invaluable. It actually helps them to thrive in university or college when they get there.

According to American professor and higher-education expert, Jeffrey Selingo, in his bestselling There is Life After College, 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. “We shouldn’t rush this transition,” he insists.

“Taking a gap year can be a success determiner for future endeavours like studying.”

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.

Pros of a Gap Year

  1. Setting Yourself Up: Being able to earn an income that you can put towards supporting yourself while you study, future endeavours or a car could be what you need to better ensure your future studying success.
  2. Increased Odds of Successful Studying: Many students who first take a structured gap year fair better than those that don’t. In addition to usually knowing better what they want and why, post-gap year students tend to have a boosted self-confidence. They have a self-driven motivation that result in a lower risk of dropping out.
  3. Work Experience: Work experience is far more than simply a valuable addition to your CV. It will teach you about the kind of person you are – and, as a result, the work setting best suited to your unique personality.
  4. Regroup and Discover:  Changing pace and experiencing new places, cultures and people will expand your understanding of the world around you as well as 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. Taking a gap year ideally should result in many happy moments and experiences to later recall.

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

Cons of a Gap Year

  1. Opposition to Your Decision: Not everyone will see or understand the value of a Gap year. While you don’t need to continually justify your decision, having solidity good reasons for taking a gap year are important. If you doing it just to have a good time, you are probably not going to benefit from taking a year out.
  2. It takes a lot of Planning: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a gap year of work and travel. However, the reality is a structured Gap year doesn’t just fall into place. Upfront they require a lot of careful planning, research and budgeting by the person taking it.
  3. Loose Track of Where You Need to be: Fearing that a gap year could turn into two or three or forever is a reality you need to think through. With careful planning and a defined timeline, ahead of embarking on a gap year, this fear can be nixed.
  4. Potentially Costly: Cost varies especially if you looking at short term travels or don’t want to work while you travel. But for those who need them, internship and gap year programs often have financial aid or scholarship opportunities.
  5. You’ll “Be Behind”: It’s inevitable that you will pause and consider what it will be like to have your friends a year ahead of you in their studies and life plan. However, good friends will remain friends and with a structured gap year could actually vault you ahead of your contemporaries. Expanding your social and academic network outside of its current circle has many advantages and could yield opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise had.

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

5 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Gap Year

Of course, there is a catch: your gap year must be meaningful. “Students who delay college to work odd jobs for a while to try to ‘find themselves’ don’t do as well as everyone else when they get to college,” says Selingo. “They get lower grades, and there’s a greater chance they will drop out.”  

So how, then, do you go about making your gap year truly “meaningful”?

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; you won’t waft around or waste time while you taking time out. And when it’s time to writeup a CV your gap year won’t be regarded as an extended vacation.

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. Whether you get voluntary work, an internship, or a paid part-time job during your gap year, use the opportunity to determine whether you like the field you’re working in enough to make it your full-time profession. And, just as important, whether it’s a good fit for you.

3. Get better prepared academically

If you’re not academically burned out, consider taking a short course in your intended field. 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 study, without having to take on a full course load all at once. You’ll start your first year a few credits ahead, giving you extra wiggle room when planning your future course schedules.

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, host-families and scholarships are all great options if you on a tight budget. Exploring the great wide world will put you in contact with interesting people and different cultures, expand your horizons and give you international experience – 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 the emerging markets – often operate with clients and partners from different countries and being able to speak their language 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.”

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 experience into 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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