Do I Take a Gap Year?Here are some important factors to consider before you decide whether to take a year off school or continue to university after highschool.
As students complete high school—after spending 12 years in a highly structured environment—the question 'What next?' looms large. For most, this is the first major decision they have to make about the direction their lives will take.
… it's a choice between taking time off or burning out.
The first challenge they face is deciding whether or not to go straight on to post secondary education. As they focus on strong reasons for or against, they may not examine key factors in detail. Some simply lack the energy –and the motivation—for further learning. They're done, at least for now; it's a choice between taking time off or burning out.
Others have parents (and grandparents) who consider it simply unimaginable that they would not move on to higher education.
Sometimes this is also supported by cultural values which place great value on academic achievement.
A 2002 Statistics Canada 'Youth in Transition Survey' confirmed that "the educational attainment of parents and the values they placed on post-secondary education were strongly related to both [the] participation and persistence [of students]. While more than 80 percent of youth whose parents had a post-secondary diploma went on to post-secondary studies, this proportion dropped to about half for youth whose parents had less than a high school diploma."
However, the majority of students who emerge from high school do aspire to some kind of post-secondary qualification—if only to escape from a future of menial, boring and low-wage work.
In addition to better quality jobs, college grads have a better record of job placement. Stats Can 2007 figures show that ten percent more college grads have attained employment than those with only grade 12 in the 15 to 24 year age group.
Preparing for the big decision
Pacific Academy (PA) is one of the largest Christian high schools in British Columbia. Brad Smith, PA's career counsellor, spoke to Options about readying students for what to do after grade 12.
"They are overwhelmed with choices … "
"From the beginning of grade ten, we take a three-year approach to researching careers—with a mandatory course, and weekly assignments."
Smith went on to describe the challenge students are facing, with an increasing plethora of choices. "I host 'post-secondary nights'—but actually see quite a low turnout. Kids are just not giving it a lot of thought," he said.
"They are overwhelmed with choices—and avoid making a decision. It used to be that you simply chose whether to go to college or university. Now there are different combinations, [including] ministry/academic combinations. There are just so many options."
Direction, or lack of it, is indeed a factor which may dissuade students from going straight on to post-secondary education.
Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson are authors of The Gap Year Advantage—subtitled 'Helping your child benefit from time off before or during college.' They were asked about the difference between a gap year plan and just 'goofing off' before college.
A gap year "journey," they responded, "is designed to open minds and opportunities for students on their path through higher education and beyond.
"A gap plan that includes focus and goals can be meaningful and purposeful, leading to personal growth and a renewed perspective on the world and the value of education.
"Without a plan, students may tend to simply 'hang out' as days turn into months and the prospect of attending college seems irrelevant. Parents' major concern when faced with gap options for their kids is that they won't attend or return to college; a plan can help ensure that higher education is the primary objective."
Factors to consider
A high school graduate should first ask: "Where do I want to end up?"
" … Indecision should not be a factor to decide against going on to college or university."
Typically, most students tend to opt for either arts or science; some, on the other hand, focus on business education.
Most colleges allow for as much flexibility as possible in first year programs, and universities report that more than 50 percent of students change majors.
Brian Kerr—director of undergraduate admissions for Trinity Western University—confirms that "most students don't know what they want to do. Indecision should not be a factor to decide against going on to college or university."
Guidance from God
Many issues encourage us to seek God. Perhaps the most striking biblical account of guidance is found in Acts 17: 6-10.
"Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.
"During the night, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them."
Unable to go onward, Paul waited until God inspired him to make the right decision.
Students also have to decide where to go and what to do. Parents may play a role, as well as pastors and counsellors; but God's peace regarding specific directions can be sought—and found. It is an important part of the maturing process, as students seek God—and take new levels of responsibility for their own lives.
With unemployment at a historical low, there are many job openings—with some retail and food outlets desperate to fill positions. TWU's Kerr said students should use these opportunities wisely—by getting training first—and then taking time to earn money after they are qualified for jobs.
"If a student takes a five-year plan, working one year at the end with higher earning power, [they will be] further ahead than working the year at the beginning."
Originally published in Options, Spring 2007.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2007 Christianity.ca.