The Gap Year. Should Matriculants Consider It?


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Over 900,000 South African matriculants are currently writing their final National Senior Certificate exams, but according to the Council of Higher Education, more than half of these accomplished high school graduates won’t pursue higher education immediately after getting their results.


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Financial constraints are often the main reason compelling so many matriculants to defer their higher education aspirations until they have earned enough to afford it. For others, the complex web of university admissions and encountering hurdles in gaining acceptance for their preferred courses or desired tertiary institutions, or simply not knowing what they want to do, is enough to consider taking a much-needed break after the 13-year schooling system.

While a gap year offers school leavers the opportunity to acquire practical skills such as learning how to drive, improving their communication skills whilst working and saving as an au pair for example, it is important to weigh the potential downsides.

One significant disadvantage is the risk of losing academic momentum and falling out of the habit of structured learning. The competitive nature of certain job markets may pose a challenge for those who delay their entry into higher education, especially if they have nothing constructive to put down on their resume.  Additionally, the financial burden of a gap year can be substantial for those individuals who opt to travel abroad and in turn may struggle to save enough money, delaying their ability to afford higher education.

The uncertainty of a gap year can contribute to feelings of anxiety and indecision, making it challenging for students to establish clear career goals, with many becoming reluctant to leave the comfort of a now familiar comfort zone.

Recognising these challenges, some learners and their parents may find studying towards a short-term qualification to be more practical and cost-effective. These options allow matriculants to gain a comprehensive introduction to their areas of interest without committing to a lengthy four-year degree, providing a more financially accessible pathway to further education and career advancement.

“While a gap year may seem tempting, it often lacks the structured foundation that a higher certificate or short course programme provides. It's not just about taking time off; it's about investing that time in a purposeful way. We believe in empowering students with the tools and insights they need to make informed decisions about their futures,” says Atelisha Harilal, Head of Marketing and Student Recruitment at STADIO.

The diverse range of higher certificate programmes span across various fields including law, teacher education, technology, fashion, and design.  These flexible programmes even allow students to gain access into other programmes such as degrees, once completed, even if they initially didn’t have the minimum entry requirements.

Harilal emphasises the role of a higher certificate or a short course is to offer practical insights into the professional world: "The programmes are designed not only for academic rigour but are closely aligned with industry needs. They serve as a valuable bridge between academic theory and the realities of today’s workplace.

Navigate success in two easy steps 

To help prospective students and parents grapple with the overwhelming choices post-matric, Harilal suggests asking two questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months? “One of the key advantages of pursuing some sort of academic commitment during your gap year is the opportunity to develop essential skills like discipline, time management, critical thinking, and persistence. These competencies go beyond the academic realm and prepare students for success in their professional and personal futures,” she says.
  2. Why do you want to achieve this? Harilal encourages an informed decision-making process. It's crucial not to succumb to external pressures or diverging opinions. “Parents should empower their children to explore their own aptitudes, skills, and interests through a flexible tertiary programme. It's a transformative journey that adds tangible value, unlike a year of uncertainty or one spent in an act of self-discovery," she states.

Deciding between embracing a gap year or continuing the path of education is undoubtedly one of the most challenging yet defining moments of a student’s life. Opting for the enriching journey can be the happy middle ground - not only setting the stage for a seamless transition from secondary to tertiary education but also empowering students with a skill set indispensable for a flourishing future career.

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At the beginning of December, almost a million matriculants completed their final Matric exams for 2023. Now, the Class of 2023 eagerly await the release of their Matric results.






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