Gap Years and Why They’re Often a Huge Mistake

“I don’t know what I want to do, so I’m taking a gap year.

This statement and this philosophy is a common experience of many school-leavers, unsure of where to go after school finishes. A gap year without a plan or goal, however, is a dangerous choice. The transition from school to work or study is different for everyone, and an unfocused gap year is often a stumbling block for many. According to research by Year13, many young people take gap years to ‘figure things out’, as they’re overcome with fear and confusion about the transition out of school. One young person surveyed in their research said “at the beginning of the year, I started university, but it turned out that not really assessing what I wanted during school left me in the wrong place afterwards. Now, I’m taking a gap year to figure out what I want to study and do in the future.”

For some young people overwhelmed or under aware of the opportunities, pathways and careers available to them after school, a gap year to take the pressure off and work in different jobs is helpful soul-seeking exercise. Those who take structured gap years with work, travel or gap year programs often enter university, work or other training with more purpose and clarity. For many, however, a year of exploration turns into months of no direction and increasing hopelessness. These young people become more disengaged and often end up long-term unemployed and unhappy, without aspiration or motivation to get onto a sustainable career pathway.

Trying to pursue a path you’re not interested in isn’t a sustainable plan, especially when it comes to University. Due to the pressure from school and parents on University pathways, there are hundreds of students that go into University without drive or desire to be there. 62% of young people have considered dropping out of Uni and 1 in 3 students don’t complete their degrees within 6 years. For the privilege of even a partial Uni degree, young people inherit debt and often more uncertainty. Similar can be said for vocational pathways chosen wrongly, however, the data seems to suggest that more students regret going to Uni as they’re more likely to go unsure of their goals or aspirations.

So how can you make sure a gap year is the right choice?

Gap years can be productive and fulfilling for young people, and ultimately can serve to help determine career direction and find inspiration. But how can you ensure a profitable gap year?

Set goals

Give your gap year strategic purpose by setting a few goals to work towards. Big or small, create goals with a tangible deadline – and make them things that excite you! Plan to buy your own car, travel to Europe for 2 months or complete a marathon. Then look at what you need to do to achieve those goals, such as worth full-time for 6 months or train 3 times a week. Having things you want to do to aim for, makes time spent more focused and feel more worthwhile.

Learn new things

Even if you’re taking a break from study or believe you’re finished with it all together, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue keeping yourself growing by learning! Learn something new during your gap year – you might find something you never knew you had such a passion for! Start a new hobby, learn a language or even learn how to make coffee. No learning is ever worthless, and by exploring something you like, you may discover options you had never thought of before.

Explore different options

Your gap year is for finding out more about career options and exploring your interests to find direction, so go and do! Volunteer at relevant events, do work experience, work in different industries or ask people you know if you can visit their workplace and find out more about their career. Use your gap year to find out more about your own likes and dislikes when it comes to work, so you have the best opportunity to discover your career direction. Don’t be too set on where you should end up at the end, but be open to different pathways and opportunities as they come.

How can we improve career inspiration before the end of school?

The fact that so many young people are leaving school uncertain and uninformed about their options and pathways points to a broader problem. Why aren’t we inspiring and educating teenagers about careers, and how can we serve them better? The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple fix. As a community, as a country and ultimately as a globe, we can all show up to support, empower and teach young people how to forge their own path with resilience and determination. We can be generous in the time and advice we give and seek to provide opportunities where we can. The landscape of careers and job seeking is vastly different to that of yesterday, and tomorrow it will have raced even further ahead. Let’s commit to supporting young people in their future, today.

I’m a student and I want more career and gap year information!

Find career inspiration, information and gap year programs at Year13

Explore careers at Skillsroad

Find career and life advice at the Footnotes

I’m not a student but I want to help young people in my community now!

There are various ways to get involved with young people and share your career experience and passions.

  1. Speak in schools to share about your career and industry with students, help broaden their horizons and make informed subject choices, understand the application of their studies and develop a focus.
  2. Host year 11 and 12 students studying your industry in your business or workplace for week-long blocks and show them your passion! Show them what working in that industry is realistically like and help them improve their skills for the future. Learning hands-on skills help young people concentrate better when learning the theory in the classroom.
  3. Provide work experience or a job for young people who lost their way when leaving school. By taking a chance on a young person trying to create their own future after a hard start, you not only inspire confidence and improve self-esteem, but contribute immeasurable value into a young person’s life and their future.

Want to make an impact for young people today?

I want to speak in schools    I want to host students     I want to give someone a fresh start

2 thoughts on “Gap Years and Why They’re Often a Huge Mistake

  • I feel this article is very misleading. There are massive statements backed up without statistical evidence. The title itself being very sensationalist. It would be really helpful to have some data with this as this is the type of thing that parents would read. The statement “For many, however, a year of exploration turns into months of no direction and increasing hopelessness….”. I think putting this in without data is risky. It also fuels parental concerns about “wasting time”. It would be much more helpful if this read “For some…..”. I agree with the overall gist that GAP years should have GOALs etc but journalistic writing with these sweeping statements are not only untrue and under-researched, they pose a risk for worried parents. If any research had been done, the current statistics are so low about GAP year students failing to engage in tertiary studies that this article wouldn’t have been published. As a careers adviser, I know my network of careers advisors in the Sydney region would disagree whole heartedly with these statements.

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    • Hi Claire thanks for your comment and for reading our article! We wouldn’t want to worry parents unnecessarily so I’ll amend the article to include more links to our research at the end of the article rather than just embedded. In our experience working with young people both in and out of school across the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury Regions and throughout Western Sydney, we often see gap years without goals or structure leading to young people ending even more disengaged and often long-term unemployed. This, however, does not mean we believe they’re a waste of time, in fact many young people find more profit in exploring different experiences and jobs before choosing a career pathway than going straight from school. Thank you for your passion and drive for helping your students transition into their own sustainable future after school!

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