Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Benefits of taking time off (Gap Year)

I am a firm advocate for the gap year. I took 8 years between high school and university (due to a competitive and then professional figure skating career). During this break I traveled, worked with the show, and learned the answers to those common proverbial questions like: who am I? what is my purpose? what makes me happy? what am I good at? Prior to getting into the ice show, I had the admission papers in my clammy little hands for a 3 year program in sociology at another university (gasp! another thing I figured out while away is where I wanted to go to school!). I am SO glad I allowed myself the time to make the right decision.  My gap year was longer than most other peoples break from education, but the overall outcome was the same. I returned to school focused and confident in my decision and that has formed the base of my educational success.

A gap year (which doesn't have to be a full year) can be taken at any time, but make sure that you can return to your program in good standing if you happen to break in the middle of your degree. Many people ( and parents) fear that gap years can lead to a long term interruption of educational plans. This is not the case! Most students return to school within one year with renewed focus and energy. The benefits of a gap year vary from person to person and it does not come with a guarantee of an "AHA!" moment that will direct all of your future actions but many times, answers come to you before you even ask the questions. Time away may only serve the purpose of recharging your batteries, or it may mean something more profound like answering those nagging questions, or choosing your life path. Even if you don't find the answer to all of lifes' questions, you will return with new stories, experiences, and friends! Some people have such an amazing experience in another country that they decide to establish themselves there instead of coming back for school - which is another path you could take!

Some people choose to travel, some choose to work, and some choose to pursue hobby-like interests. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you feel productive and fulfilled. Setting goals is a great way to gain some momentum during your break. What would you like to learn or accomplish? How will you learn/accomplish it? SMART goals are an excellent tool to guide you to achieving your gap year goals. Gap year work and volunteering experiences can be a great boost to your resume. There are plenty of gap year associations out there that can connect you to  various organizations, but in my opinion it is easy to arrange by yourself with a little help from a search engine.

A word of caution: travel and hobbies can be expensive. Be careful with your finances during your time away from school. You don't want to show up to school with a negative balance in your bank account.

If you are not sure what you would like to do with your future, or if you need some time away from school a gap year may be the answer for you. Remember to be realistic with yourself and your finances, be informed of due dates, application dates, and payment dates, and go out there and have an adventure!

Becky W.
Senior Career Assistant
3rd year Tourism and Environment (Hons.)

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