Discussing The Gap Year

Discussing The Gap Year

A gap year is a break taken typically between high school and college or university, it might include travelling, working or volunteering. It’s much more than a relaxed break, it’s time for students to explore the world and gain valuable life skills and experience while trying to figure out which career suits you best or you fit into.

A gap year spent travelling or volunteering can provide a break in routine and the perspective one usually needs to refocus and succeed in college and beyond. Also proficiency in a language may help you get placement in your chosen course instead of starting with a bridging course. Taking a gap year is a big step that requires motivation to challenge you and step outside of your comfort zone. It can provide you with an opportunity to experience another culture and build confidence.

It’s very common and popular in countries such as Australia, America and U.K. It’s idea is starting to grow here in South Africa. An increasing number of high school students are thinking about it as most aren’t sure about their careers or Grade 12 results, and a gap year seems the easiest way to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

The topic of taking a Gap year is one that parents feel uneasy about and would like to avoid. It should be considered before a parent throws their hard earned paycheck into a well of last chances/money pit. Parents should get to know the facts about what a gap year is before making a decision.

A gap year does not mean that you will be degree-less forever or will be a burden on the family. There are no research studies that prove that students who never attend a tertiary institution aren’t successful, as some have go on to become successful entrepreneurs.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t complete their tertiary studies (I am not saying you can be like them but I’m also not disputing that you can’t) It takes planning and taking a gap year can make you more focused and prepare you for the ‘big world’. Harvard University supports the notion of a gap year (college.harvard.edu/admissions/preparing-college/should-i-take-time).

Parents should understand the motive behind these institutions rationalisation of the gap year is obvious: Mature and prepared students equal higher completion rates. These stats are important for the institutions as they use these to attract future generation of students. Attending a tertiary institution when you are not ready is like sending Bafana Bafana to the World Cup. ( I couldn’t resist, apologies)

A few guidelines to follow before deciding on taking on a gap year:

Parents should inform their children that willing to pay for tuition is not letting their kids off the hook for a gap year as well. Gap year is about teaching and learning responsibility in the real world. They should think and present a proposal about how they will live and contribute to the household during those 12 months.

Have a back-up plan

It will be best for you to get accepted into your ideal institution and then take a gap year. You may inform the institution and they might put your application on hold and might even respect your decision. If you weren’t accepted to any institutions then the gap year offers you a second chance (life doesn’t often offer these, be grateful) Also you might be able to produce better results by taking courses or community programmes that will make you second application stand out and be all that plus a bag of chips. It’s certainly not a guarantee but it has happened before.

Put it in writing

Life comes with surprises so it would be best to do the research and planning in case you change your mind after the December school holidays. You should have a budget and a schedule for the expenses, the planning is as important as the gap year. It’s OK! to stray from the plan once the year begins.

There are also a range of activities you can take on or participate in your gap year, there are cultural exchange programmes (Link) Most organisations have expedition and volunteering sector include Teaching English in other countries (www.warriors.co.za). Warriors South Africa offers Health and Fitness, Adventure and Social Skills Development programmes.

Mission Tours or Expeditions

These are group activities based in one country or travelling to a number of countries for 6-18 weeks. They normally include community projects and conservation projects. These provide opportunities for you to learn new skills and participate in activities that will provide you with leadership skills.


You can volunteer in your neighbourhood, town or city. You don’t have to go abroad. You can tutor, teach or do care work at an elderly village or a frail care centre. The plan is to ensure that you are the right person for the project and the project works for you too.

Paid placement

These are normally low paying but with great benefits; usually located in fun locations or offer an enjoyable hobby in your spare time.

Use the following link to find a gap year placement in South Africa (www.gapplacements.co.uk/searching_for_a_career/South_Africa)


Written by

Portia Mbete



The views expressed in the blog post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the South African College of Business.