How To Make Your Gap Year Productive

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For many high school learners, the idea of jumping into the next phase of life right after finishing their matric year is daunting and overwhelming. This is why thousands of newly matriculated learners opt to take a “gap” year.

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The amount of pressure that is put on matric learners during their final year is immense as is, then they’re also tasked with mapping out their future and what career pursuits they are passionate about.

This is one of the reasons why gap years are considered and sometimes even encouraged.

What is a gap year?

The concept of a gap year is quite simple: after twelve-plus years of constant schooling, a year away from the classroom gives young people the chance to travel, learn new skills, volunteer and some may even use this time to “discover themselves”.

Ultimately it provides students with an opportunity to take some time off to decide what type of education and career pathway they wish to pursue.

However, the reality for most South Africans taking a gap year is not as glamourous as it sounds. Most matriculants are often forced to pursue any work opportunities straight out of school in order to help provide for their families.

Speaking to the Careers Portal, careers counsellor at Wits University Rotakala Sadiki says that one of the main reasons why young people in South Africa take gap years is because of their financial background.

She explains:

Most of the time when people take gap years it is because of finances, they don’t have money to pay fees or registrations. They simply don’t have money to go to a university or college to further their studies.

Are there any benefits for taking a gap year?

Many argue that taking gap year can open the door to wasting time and causes students to lose academic momentum.

The questions parents often ask include: Are gap years really a good idea? Do students become less motivated or forget their academics during a “year off?” 

Sadiki says that taking a gap year can benefit young people in various ways. From exposure and experiences to personal growth and learning.

“Firstly, you’ll learn to become independent. A lot of high school learners depend on others for guidance and decision making. When you take a gap year you take full responsibility of your actions and learn to not depend on other people.”

Rotakala adds. “It also gives learners an opportunity to explore any skills or hobbies they might have. For example, starting a business to generate income or save money for your studies, this may even help learners identify whether you might want to study business related courses.”

Another key benefit of taking a gap year is that young people are exposed to various internships and learnerships opportunities.

Sadiki notes that this allows learners to remain productive by gaining experience and working during their year off.

She affirmed that a gap year can be of great benefit if it is executed productively and with clear intent to start your academic journey once it is completed.

Here are 4 tips Rotakala Sadiki recommends for making a gap year productive:

  • Seek career guidance

Sadiki believes that if people are taking a gap year because they are unsure about which career path to pursue, seeking career guidance is highly recommendable.

Check which universities or organisations offer career guidance for high school learners or newly matriculated learners. This will give you the opportunity to adequately evaluate what it is you want to pursue. 

  • Explore opportunities

Finding an internship or learnership that interests you can be of great benefit during your gap year.

“Most NGO’s, organisations and businesses create learnerships for newly matriculated learners that offer skills development training programmes where young people can gain experience.”

For example, if you plan to be a teacher, find a job as a camp counsellor, nanny or tutor.

Not only will this look great on your CV but will also help you get clarity on your career path choices. 

  • Prepare for the following academic year

Sadiki noted that if students are taking a gap year because of space rejection or failure to secure placement at their dream institution, they should prepare for the following academic year early on.  

Apply at various intuitions, whether it be a university or TVET college. Having back-up options is always advisable. Visit institutions to find out more on what they offer and what alternatives you could pursue that might direct you on your desired path.

Additionally, she adds that if students are taking a gap year as a result of finances, they should use this year to look for funding. Explore bursary opportunities, scholarships, and other financial aid options as early as possible and make sure to submit applications on time.

  • Use this time to build on yourself

Gap years can become hectic as you try to achieve a number of things in a limited time span. So, it’s important to take rests at regular intervals and self-reflect on the progress you have made and the progress you want to make.

Travel, experience new things and even learn a new language.

A gap year can also provide time to pursue a passion project and meet new people who could become business connections – think about how it could help you market yourself to potential employers.

Rotakala Sadiki is a registered Careers Counsellor, currently working at the University of Witwatersrand’s counselling and careers development centre. She has over 6 years of experience providing emotional support, psycho-education and career development to students.  


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For most young students, and you may be among them, completing your secondary education usually implies that it is time for you to progress towards the university of TVET college. However, that may not be the case for you if you intend to take a gap year.

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