Should I take a Gap Year after High School?

Updated: Jan 22, 2020


Your definitive guide to all those questions that parents and students have about Gap Years.

Leaving High School and taking a step into the big wide world is HUGE, and sometimes a student isn’t ready to dive straight into tertiary studies or a full-time role. This isn’t a fault of the student or a weakness – we all have different needs at different times in our lives.

If you want to get a tertiary qualification but the idea of University or a Polytechnic doesn’t excite you at the moment, that doesn’t mean you should rule it out altogether – that excitement might come later, after a change in scenery and the opportunity to step back from the focus on study.

Most students, whether they love school or not, find that by mid-way through Year 13, they are over the structured, predictable routine that High School requires. They are young adults with a driver’s licence of some sort, some personal freedom, perhaps some income, but they are still required to arrive at school at the same time each day and tick off subjects that they don’t feel are relevant to their future but meet the NCEA/IB requirements.

They are ready to transition to a space where they have more options and more personal freedom and responsibilities, but the boring old adults of the world won’t allow it. Just yet.

I get it. The study life of year 11, 12 and 13 can be quite repetitious and these eager, energetic and willing young adults are seeking more.

And sometimes it takes a brave person to say: “I need to stop for a moment and reassess my future.” It’s not laziness or a weakness; we all face a crisis of confidence at various times in our lives.

Some surprising statistics about what High Schoolers REALLY think!

When I was at high school, a Gap Year wasn’t an option, so it’s often hard for parents today to see the point of it for today’s students.

Many parents I work with WISH they could have taken some kind of gap year – they are confused about the best path for them, they don’t have the right information to make a good decision and they feel the pressure of time to settle on a way forward. If they had the ability to take a gap year, many would have taken it. So let’s be open to the possibility for this generation.

The views of high school students confirm that most of them feel uncertain about their path after high school:

  1. 67% of Year 13 students are worried that they are not going to be able to find a career-related job.

  2. 56% believe their prospects after university aren’t strong.

  3. And finally, 64% believe that universities aren’t adequately equipping students with skills that will fulfil the needs of a workplace.

Despite what you might hear, a gap year isn’t

just about taking a break from everything

(although if you do just want a break that’s

totally okay too).

What are the benefits of doing a Gap Year?

  • A gap year can be a key part of your career/life development and if you’re travelling or spending time working, you’ll be picking up important life skills like budgeting.

  • A gap year can give you a chance to just figure things out without the pressure of exams and deadlines and most of the time you’ll be able to defer your University offer for a year while you decide.

  • Studies have shown that students who delay tertiary studies for a year after leaving school have a higher grade average at the end of their tertiary studies.

  • They are also less likely to change their course once they start and are less likely to binge drink!

  • The Gap Year experience can help you build your resilience, your ability to adapt to new situations and your skills in working with diverse groups or environments.

  • In 2012, 34% of Harvard students had taken a Gap Year, and 90% of these went on to finish their degree on time!

So here are some reasons to consider a Gap Year:

  • You feel you don't know yourself well and want to improve your self-awareness and motivation for work or further study.

  • You have things you are passionate about ticking off before going to University - for example, taking your sporting skills to a higher level, completing a volunteer project, testing a new idea/product in the marketplace.

  • You want to get some money behind you to lessen the financial stress while studying.

  • You have challenges outside school that warrant a breather before your next step. For instance, you may be dealing with a disability, illness, or family loss that has drained you emotionally and physically.

  • You don't feel you know enough about the world of work to make a considered decision about your best career move.

  • Your career coach (like me!) has identified through the detail in your personality profile that a Gap Year could be beneficial to you.

Now, what are the downsides to a Gap Year?

  • You may be a year behind your friends and former classmates who have gone on to tertiary study.

  • You might find it hard to pick up certain subjects again, or get back into the study habit.

  • You may be tempted by a good work offer when it may be in your best interests to study instead – choosing income now over your longer term prospects.

  • You may not earn as much money as you hoped you might.

  • You might enjoy the freedom a little TOO much, and your Gap Year extends beyond a year.

The key questions you should ask yourself in deciding on a Gap Year: