by Natalie Chan

Gap Year

Length: 3 minutes

Audience: For individuals 14+

Some of you may think “why waste time on a gap year?” Go straight into university and get a start on a career. A gap year is delayed entry into school and thus a late entry into the labour market (Curtis, 2014).

But current literature disagrees. The decision to apply for university may be seen as an indicator that the student is ready to begin their careers, yet Pancer, Pratt, Hunsberger, and Alisat (2004) found a large number of students are unprepared for choosing majors and subsequent careers.

Gap years are a solution to this problem. When structured and planned properly, a gap year is a meaningful experience, rather than simply taking the year off (Dyrda, Hambley, Bernes, & Huston, 2017). It provides real-world learning through experiences and is learning at a much deeper and comprehensive level than from within a classroom.

Gap years can be a year in between secondary school and university, in the traditional sense, but also a year in which individuals discover their passion and jumpstart into a career, and therefore bypassing school. The gap year can become the entry into the labour market or can provide a richer and more meaningful university experience. The gap year can act as a transitional point in young adults’ lives (Jones, 2005).

Gap years are associated with improved employability due to the cultivation of soft skills, social values, social capital, and the formation and development of future choices whether it is in relation to an occupation or for choice of study (Jones, 2004; O’Shea, 2013; Parker, Thoemmes, Duineveld, & Salmela-Aro, 2015; O’Shea, 2013). Accruing benefits is one of the main factors into a worthwhile gap year, in which skills and knowledge, such as maturity, self-awareness, and independence, are cultivated that can be applied into occupations begun at a later point in time (Snee, 2013). O’Shea (2011) found gap year takers were better decision makers, more mature, and overall developed themselves personally as a result of their experiences throughout the year; they learned experientially.

What this indicates is that when structured properly, gap years prepare young adults for their future lives. Students cultivating soft skills through experiential and real-world learning are better prepared and also future proofing themselves for the not-so-distant workplace of the future, with inevitable automation and technological advances.

When students have the ability to make choices for their educational and professional lives, alongside having the skills and knowledge to map out their futures, they are prepared to begin developing their careers (Code, Bernes, Gunn & Bardick, 2006). However given current education systems’ focus on academics with constant regurgitation of facts, students are often lead to developing tunnel vision–the only careers are the ones that you learned as a child through flashcards like doctor, firefighter, teacher, and librarian. Exploration and experiential learning develop the skills of decision making and self-awareness, which prepares students for the future.

Ultimately, whether or not you feel you have chosen a university major or career, taking a structured year off brings benefits of clarity and assurance in your decision by first having developed yourself personally, professionally, and emotionally.


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Dyrda, A., Hambley, L., Bernes, K., & Huston, M. (2017). The gap year dilemma: When a purposeful gap year is the answer the career unpreparedness. Canadian Journal of Career Development, 16(1).

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