The Pro’s & Con’s Of “The Gap Year”


Knowing that matriculation is just around the corner brings to most late teenagers a knowing that the future now holds a certain amount of freedom and that there are infinite possibilities in that freedom.  The possibilities rest alluringly in this age-group who is just beginning to acquaint themselves with their own character - their vulnerabilities and their strengths.  It is the fragile emotional interaction taking place now that can determine whether freedom is a gift or a curse. As the more experienced of the two, and very likely the banker, it is up to you to guide your teenager in their most suitable direction.  

What is a Gap Year? 

It is defined as the period between Grade 12 and further study and it is intended to be exactly that – Just ONE Year!

How Can a Gap Year Help?  For goal-oriented learners a gap year can be extremely beneficial in gaining perspective and, barring extreme circumstances, most focused teenagers are able to pick up where they left off after a short break. Here are just a few of the benefits to taking time off before entering college or university:

  • Maturing:  Teenagers who take a year off before they enter college or university mature earlier than their peers who go straight into tertiary institutions from high school.   Work experience (including volunteer and goodwill projects) are great résumé-builders and can result  in increased focus and maturity—qualities that all competitive colleges and universities like to see in prospective students.  Also, prospective employers are increasingly recognising the non-vocational worth of the gap year employee as having more life experience and potentially more business and organisational abilities than their counterparts.
  • Focused: When teenagers take a year off to discover who they really are they tend to be more focused on what they want to do with the rest of their life.  Many learners who thought they knew what they wanted to major in, realised that they did not enjoy working in their presumed major after they delved into their gap year of full-time work. These learners can take the rest of their gap year to explore different jobs in order to find out what they really want to major in at college or varsity.  If your teenager is still unsure what they want to do, then a gap year should be a consideration rather than emotional breakdowns and wasted money following a bad study choice.
  • Teenagers will be better academically prepared for college or university.  Students who lack basic study skills may run into difficulties at college and university.  If your teenager’s grades or study skills are not up to par by the time they matriculate, then you may want them to consider taking a gap year to improve themselves academically to avoid frustration and disappointment later.  Contemplate the option of enrolling in a post-matric programme to enhance their concentrated studying. 
  • Your child will have an appreciation for college or university.  If they are going to study only because that's what you want them to do then they may have a hard time appreciating what further study has to offer them.  A gap year may shed new light on further education and its advantages.  Consider the following situation: Your child takes a year off from college to work full time.  They work long hours with very low pay. It won't take them very long to realise that in order to get ahead in life, they need qualifications.  

When their gap year is over they will have a new appreciation for tertiary education and know that they really want to be there instead of just going because that is what is expected of them.

  • A gap year allows students take a step back and “recharge” after years of the daily academic grind.
  • Working full time can help teenagers save up for tuition and other tertiary education costs and while it may not cover all of their expenses it can make a big dent and teach them some valuable life skills.

How Can a Gap Year Hurt?

For some, the gap year is an unproductive experience especially if they take it for the wrong reasons or fail to establish a clear plan.  Take a look at some of the negative effects of taking a break before studying further:

  • There is the potential that things might not go according to plan.
  • Not researching organisations sufficiently may end up costing a stack of cash with little valuable experience to show in return.
  • It’s another year out before your child can start earning and career building but as long as the time out isn’t wasted then they will have gained in experience. 
  • It can be an expensive way for teenagers to avoid things at home.
  • For students who fail to develop important habits, it’s easy to lose focus and fall out of the academic routine.
  • Watching friends and classmates move on to college or varsity ahead can be disheartening.
  • Students who wait sometimes lose access to guidance counselors, peer support and even bursary resources that they would have had fresh out of high school.
  • Holding out for “better” colleges or universities usually doesn’t pay off unless the gap year activities were particularly impressive or geared towards a specific major.

How to Plan for a Successful Gap Year: 

To make the most of a break from academic study, consult books and Web sites on college and varsity planning; talk to high school counselors, college and varsity admission representatives, other parents and students and trusted teachers.  Be sure to analyse your child’s goals and reasons for taking a gap year before they commit to something that could have a major impact on their degree pursuit and subsequent career.

FUQs (Frequently Unasked Questions)

Does my child have to apply to university before a gap year?

They don’t have to but it’s a good idea for many reasons including:  First off, it means they (and you) don’t have to worry about cutting short travel plans, if they have them, to attend an interview at their chosen place of study.  Secondly, colleges and universities usually prefer a student to have applied during their final year of school and make note of deferment in the case of a gap year.  Thirdly, if your child didn’t get a place that suited circumstances best the first time around, taking a year out could give them a second chance.

Does my child need to tell the university that he intends to take a gap year?

In theory, YES.   They should make note on their application forms that they wish to defer study for a year.  Most universities, if they are willing to offer a place to start with, won’t feel any different about it the following year but some suggest reapplication anyway to make sure the spot is secured.  There are some institutions that simply won’t accept deferred entries.  Make certain of the rules and regulations of your child’s chosen place of study. 

My child’s results may not be good enough.  Should she use a gap year to improve her grades and then reapply? 

If your child has missed her grading criteria  let her take a gap year and re-write her exams with the aim of achieving higher grades.

What do universities think of gap years? 

Most universities reckon that kids who have had a year out and then go back to study will have a more responsible and mature attitude towards work and are better able to look after themselves.  In other words, gap students generally tend to be less trouble for them.  

What can my child do in a Gap Year?

  • Work with children, the elderly and the sick through voluntary programmes
  • Farm – fruit-picking, wine-making assistant ...
  • Crew on a yacht
  • Au pair locally or abroad
  • Work on a Kibbutz in Israel
  • Join one of the many locally-advertised year-long leadership camps
  • Teach English as a foreign language abroad 
  • Volunteer to work in a magistrate’s court
  • Shadow a worker in the child’s chosen profession
  • Write a novel
  • Re-write exams
  • Take an art foundation course
  • Work and earn cash
  • Start a business
  • Learn a language
  • Re-apply to find a college or university more suited to your child’s circumstances.

Or anything that appeals to your child so long as it’s constructive and bolsters their CV.
Is a Gap Year just a way of delaying the inevitable?  It’s not a good idea to use a year off as an excuse to delay studying.   If your child doesn’t want to study further, don’t try to force them.  They can always apply later on in life as a mature student.  A gap year should be used constructively and not as an excuse but, it is just about the best chance in life to take a break.  You will probably understand this!

Taking a gap year isn't for every student. If your teenager already knows exactly what he wants to major in and thinks that he is mature and responsible enough for the work that comes along with college or varsity, then he will probably want to continue on straight after high school. Weigh up their options with them and help them make the best decision for themselves.  Whatever they decide to do, one thing is for certain: they will enroll in college or varsity a person different to the one you know now!

Article written by Dr Tracey stewart -

Using Correct Tools To Determine Your Child’s Futu...
School ditches rules and loses bullies