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Taking a Gap Year: Career Planning sub-module 4 of 5

Are you thinking about taking time off before starting your post secondary education? This period of time off, also know as a gap year, can be a useful way to prepare for your education and learn more about yourself.

Tips

  • Identify your purpose(s).Your gap year will be most successful if you know what you want to accomplish and how you will accomplish it.
  • Explore interests and skills.Whether you’re travelling, taking classes, or working, this can help you develop skills for a future program or decide what you want to do.
  • Check out classes to develop skills.Part-time college courses, adult high school classes, and city recreational programs are all good ways to work on skills and interests before beginning a full-time program.
  • Research your travel plans.Get information about the different work and volunteer programs and the associated costs, and be aware of any travel requirements.
  • Create a budget to save money.There are resources that can help you learn how to create a budget and apps to help you keep track.

Resources

Employment Resources

Budgeting Resources

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Gap Years but Were Afraid to Ask!

What is it?

Are curious about gap years? Watch the video or read the information below.

A gap year is time off before you start full-time college or university. We say ‘gap year,’ but it doesn’t need to last a year; it can last from a few months to a few years. You have to figure out what is best for you. It is not just time off to do nothing. It can be an important opportunity for you to get to know yourself and what you want. You might want to take a gap year for any of the reasons below:

  • learn more about yourself
  • work on skills for a future college program
  • explore things you are interested in
  • save some money for tuition costs

Gap years are more popular in Europe, but they are catching on in Canada and the US because students and post-secondary institutions are discovering the benefits of them. Harvard University encourages their first year students to defer admissions for a year to take a gap year. Harvard says that students return motivated and higher performing, and that they see the purpose of attending the university. Princeton University uses the term “bridging year” to describe a gap year as a bridge between finishing up high school and beginning post-secondary.

Getting Started With Planning

In order to make your gap year worthwhile, it is important to think about why you want to take a gap year and what you hope to accomplish. This can also help you figure out if taking a gap year is the right decision for you. Watch the video and follow the steps below to start planning.

Brainstorm and write down all the reasons you want to take a gap year.

To help you think of reasons, consider these questions:

  • Who am I? Think of interests you want to explore, your personality strengths (adaptable, outgoing etc.), and your values (learning new things, helping others, etc.).
  • What is important to me? Think about what is important for you to get out of your gap year, such as learning a new skill, becoming aware of interests, having a different experience, meeting new people, etc.
  • What do I want in my life? Brainstorm what you know you want and think about how a gap year could help on your path. You don’t have to know everything about what you want in life because having new experiences develops values and interests. Consider some of the things you do know, e.g. travel, learn a new language, or go to post-secondary.

These are tough questions, so spend some time really thinking about the answers.

For example:

Peter brainstormed all the reasons he might like to take time off. He came up with reasons such as learning more about himself, saving money, recharging after high school, traveling, figuring out what he wants to do, getting better marks in a course that he needs to get into the college program he wants, and becoming more sure that he picked the best program.

To be sure that a gap year is the best choice for you, think about the potential benefits and any concerns you have:

Write down all the pros and cons you can come up with for taking a gap year.  What are your main concerns? You can then research to determine if your concerns are realistic.

For example:

A concern could be “I will be behind all my friends.

What does “behind” mean?

  • You might start post secondary education after friends, but will you really be behind if you are doing something that helps you know yourself?
  • Considering how many students switch programs, take breaks, or leave post secondary studies, you might not be behind them at all.

From the list you brainstormed in Step 1, identify a couple of key goals for your gap year. These goals should be clear and realistic. Once your goals have been identified, you need to begin to plan for how you will accomplish them. Check out the information in Ways to Explore for help with this.

Information for Parents

Is your child thinking about taking a gap year? Watch the video or read the information for parents below.

Many parents can be apprehensive about their child taking a gap year. You may be worried that your child will never get a post-secondary education, that they will fall “behind” their peers, or that they will be wasting a year. You may also have safety concerns if your child is travelling.

It is important to remember that there are many people taking gap years every year. Worrying is normal as a parent; however, the benefits your child can experience by taking a gap year should be reason to look a little more into their plan.

Review the other sections on this page to get an idea about the benefits of a gap year, and to find information and resources for planning a gap year. Purposeful, meaningful and well planned out gap years can help your child to develop maturity, confidence, skills, and a better understanding of potential fields they want to pursue. The key is that it should be planned, purposeful and meaningful.

Get involved in the planning process with them, and try and avoid judgement. Research and information are key for a successful gap year. Remind them you will be there as a support because things might not always go as planned and that is ok. Seek out your own supports from other parents whose children are taking gap years.

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Ways to Explore

Interests & Self Awareness

Your goal for taking a gap year might involve spending time pursuing your interests, developing your existing skills in preparation for your program, and becoming more self-aware about what you want. Watch the video and read the text below to learn about some ways you can pursue this goal.

Ways to Explore Interests and Skills

  • Part-time college courses.Part-time courses allow you to work on skills before beginning a full-time program. There are many courses related to a wide range of programs and interests. These courses are available both in person and online. Visit OntarioLearn - opens in a new window for online programs from Ontario Colleges.
    For example, Peter was thinking about taking a program that has a lot of computer programming, but was unsure about whether he would enjoy computer programming and whether he would be good at it. He took an Introduction to Computer Programming course.
  • High school courses.You can take courses you might have wanted to take in high school but didn’t, or take classes you are missing for a full-time program. You can take these courses through adult high schools - opens in a new window, ILC - opens in a new window, academic upgrading at your local college.
  • Classes through city recreation programs.If you want to take a course, but don’t necessarily need a credit for it, you can explore the various general interest courses that are offered through city recreation programs. These classes can include art, fitness, language, and more.
  • Volunteer work.Say you are interested in the health professions. You might want to look at volunteering at a hospital or community health agency. Volunteering in Ontario - opens in a new window for information to get involved. You can find opportunities in a variety of fields such as the following:
    • Construction/trades (handyperson, construction)
    • Business (treasurer, fundraising)
    • Social services (shelters, community organizations, NPO’s)
    • Technology (social media and website help)
    • Health (long term care, NPO’s, hospitals)
    The module on travel also has information about volunteer travel programs.
  • Paid work. Paid work can also be a way to explore interests, even if the work is not directly related to your interests. You can explore the things you like about a workplace, such as whether you like working on teams or prefer to work independently, etc.
  • Travel.This can also be a way to explore interests and learn more about yourself. See the Travel tab for more information on incorporating travel into your gap year.

Travel

You might want to take the opportunity to travel before you are tied down to full time work or school. Travelling can also be a way to become more independent and develop skills like problem solving. Many people also incorporate paid work or volunteer work into their travels. What ever you choose to do, it is important to do your homework if you want to travel during your gap year.

Watch the video and read the text below to learn about the considerations for your travel plans.

What to consider when planning travel

  • Your purpose. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of your travel experience, what you want to learn, or what skill you want to develop. Having a clear purpose and goal will help with your research.

  • Volunteering/work abroad programs. There are many programs available. If you choose to work or volunteer abroad during your travels, do some research in order to pick one that is best for you.
  • Your destination. You may choose to travel abroad, or stay within Canada. If you stay within Canada, you can still get a lot out of the experience. Katimavik - opens in a new window is a volunteer program where you can live and volunteer in different locations across Canada.
  • Your budget. Even with volunteer programs, there are often costs involved for living expenses, airfare, food etc. Your budget should include a contingency fund with extra money for any unexpected incidents while travelling.
  • Travel requirements. If you are travelling abroad, make sure you research requirements around visas and travel documents. It is really important to do thorough research and go with a trusted organization.

See the related resources for some programs for travelling and working abroad.

Travel Resources

Finding Work and Saving Money

If you identified a goal of working and saving money, there are many resources that can help you.

Job Search Tips

Money-Saving Tips

Budgeting is important to achieve your goal of saving money, and it will be a useful skill to have when you are in school. Here are some tips to help you get started:

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