After 12 years of study, a gap year can be just what many students need. Careers expert Helen Green discusses the things you need to consider, and the opportunities offered by taking a year away from study.
When I left school in the late 80s, deferring was sternly frowned upon – almost regarded as ‘dropping out’ before you start. There was a fear among parents (and arguably many school leavers) that once their children had a taste of freedom, studying would be on the back burner. To a large extent, perceptions have changed.
Today, many tertiary institutions are accepting student deferrals, with some openly supporting their many benefits for their students. With graduate employers on the look out for well-rounded graduates with ‘work ready’ skills, it is not difficult to see why taking a gap year after school is gaining popularity here and abroad.
Before making plans, check if it is possible to defer as not all courses offer this option. This step is particularly crucial if you are a scholarship recipient or receiving other assistance.
Be aware that there may be a fee associated with deferring too. If deferring, ensure you do so before the census date to avoid paying for subjects you don’t plan to sit. On the subject of finances, make sure you know how deferring might impact on your receipt of government benefits and so on.
To defer or not is an important decision. Taking a year off after Year 12 is not suitable or realistic for some students, so be informed and do what is right for you. Many understandably prefer to keep the study momentum going and worry they will find the transition to university harder after a year off. Discuss the potential challenges, drawbacks and advantages with those you trust: parents/guardians, mentors, friends or your school or university careers counsellors. Do you know anyone who has deferred their studies? Maybe you just need a six-month break if your preferred course has a mid-year intake. Maybe you would prefer to take a year off during or after your course, as this is also a viable option for many students. If you are seriously looking at deferring, here are just a few benefits to keep in mind:
Year 12 is stressful. Juggling a heavy study load and your extra curricula activities such as sport, hobbies and/or part time work is hard. Add to this the pressure of ATAR scores and the unhelpful and largely unrealistic thought that you should ‘know’ what you want to do for the rest of your working life, and the idea of taking a year’s break is appealing. Deferring gives you a break, useful life experience and the extra year of maturity won’t hurt. The mental space it allows is good for your health, too.
Work in any capacity
Finding paid work is hard, but the effort is worth it, as it can help set you up for future success by providing you with valuable experience and some financial independence – quite apart from its value on your CV. Whether you land an interesting job linked to your intended career path, or realistically not – any work matters and gives you a head start. Voluntary work, which I discuss in more detail below, is also a smart move. Whether you work full time, part time or in a voluntary capacity, always make the most of any training or professional development opportunities offered to you.
Travel the world…
Taking a gap year doesn’t necessarily mean a year away travelling; however, if you can and you want to, do! Websites abound with exciting gap year possibilities for teenagers’ finishing school so check them out. Speak to others who have undertaken gap years which have included travel. You might consider an organised tour aimed at school leavers and/or go with a friend.
If you are lucky enough to travel around Australia or overseas during your gap year, make the most of it: work, do an internship and/or volunteer on one of the many important international projects needing support. The skills and perspective gained will be invaluable and for some of you, life changing. At the very least, your travels might be an excellent talking point at future job interviews. Keep a journal so you can record what you have experienced, skills learned and the people you met along the way.
Obviously, not everyone has the opportunity, interest, money or maturity to travel overseas for their gap year for various reasons. You might consider travelling during your degree, going on student exchange or travelling post study. There is plenty you can keep busy with on a gap year at home.
Volunteer at home
So many organisations need your help. Think broadly about the skills you possess and consider where you might put them to best use. If you know the career path you wish to pursue, you might like to volunteer in this area. Alternatively, you might like to try something completely different. Volunteering is almost guaranteed to pay dividends when it comes to your future work opportunities. Before commencing a software development degree, a client of mine who took a gap year added to his skills considerably by working for a charity needing IT assistance for several months. Whatever you do, volunteering helps build your confidence, life experience and contacts. You never know whom you might meet and career specialisations you might be exposed to. I know several students who have changed their career direction/course as a result of undertaking voluntary work during a gap year.
Upskill and get fit
Use the time wisely. Get your driving licence if you can, learn First Aid, brush up on your language skills (especially if travelling). You can also use this time to get as fit as you can in readiness for the coming year. The possibilities are endless.
Accepted an offer but feeling confused? Do your research
This is where the gap year really comes into its own. Having left school, you probably have a bit more time to yourself and no study pressures. Compare courses online, re-visit Open Days, check out new courses and speak to current students, alumni and course directors. Ask lots of questions such as what support services are available to students, what are the career outcomes of the course/graduate employment data, fees, professional accreditations, work integrated learning options, specialised student support services like careers, disability services, etc.
If you have a few areas of interest, people are your best resource. Speak to as many people as possible who work or study in, or have had recent exposure to occupations or sectors you are curious about. In the best cases, a phone chat or cup of coffee can lead to a ‘work shadowing experience’. Think of everyone you know in your social network and don’t be afraid to ask them for help. or more tips, see my blog. Seek a professional’s guidance with your career if you think it may be of benefit to you.
Get connected with your university
If you have deferred and are happy with the university/course you have enrolled in, then immerse yourself in all it has to offer. Universities are keen to engage students who have deferred. Why not attend the occasional campus function, webinar or public lecture. These can be excellent opportunities to meet staff, students and alumni. Connect on social media groups and ask questions.
Missed out on the course of your choice? Study and reapply
Did you miss out on your preferred course or where you missing a prerequisite unit? I know students who have taken a ‘bridging’ subject, done well, reapplied and been accepted. If you just missed out on your preferred course, why not re-apply with a personal statement explaining what you have learned during your year.
Helen Green is a qualified careers consultant, with more than two decades working in senior education and career program management roles. She most recently worked at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, as the School’s Career Programs Consultant. She now runs her own careers consulting practice and has children at secondary school and university.
This is an updated version of Helen’s original post for The Parents’ Website.