Carrying out structured tasks or learning a new skill in a new and different culture and community maximises the use of time between school and university and helps to develop some of the life skills that cannot be taught in a classroom. Think of it as an additional year of 'education for life' and as time-out not time off.
Research shows that structured programmes offer the opportunity to develop a sense of independence, and often helps people to discover what they want to do when they return home either at University, as a career or a past-time.
During a gap year, in an environment that may feel less geared toward academia, many young people discover a skill or a passion for something they had never considered studying before (such as teaching, medical care, community or environmental work) or now have a skill they can use to earn money during holidays (e.g. instructing or teaching). Returning students are often more focused and demonstrate a greater commitment to their studies than their peers.
Students who go to University after taking a gap year can be more mature, focused and motivated to do well and complete their studies - they are not there simply because they feel it is what is expected of them. Students who take a gap adventure maybe better able to cope with the increased stress and anxiety of independent study and a strong interest in their subjects, affirmed through their time out. Others may decide university is not afterall, for them and take a different route, saving the time and expense of withdrawing from studies that no longer carry relevence.
Why does it matter?
As competition gets stiffer for university places and jobs, a productive year out not only helps a young person to decide what they want to do, but also helps in their university, apprenticeship or job application process as it demonstrates skills and a willingness to challenge yourself and is invariably an engaging topic of conversation during interviews.
Volunteering, training, working and learning overseas offers an element of life experience, helping young people develop a sense of global citizenship and encouraging understanding of and empathy with diverse cultures.
Is it only for students?
A gap experience is no longer the preserve of school leavers and students and don't be put off by 'gap yah' stereotypes - you'll be missing out on something fantastic otherwise. Many of the programmes on offer are suitable for those taking a career break, retired or simply looking for a change or an extended period of leave. Even families can be catered for by some.