Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kids Who Postpone College to Travel More Likely to Find Work

There's no downside to high school kids taking a year off  before college says a 2008 Statistics Canada report published jointly with Canadian Policy Research Networks. In fact, as long as students return to their studies after this so-called Gap Year, the study found that they are 8% more likely to be employed upon college graduation.

Studies such as this one have contributed to a growth of Gap Year programs in Canada notes Study and Go Abroad Fairs, who put on workshops and large academic fairs so that students can learn about the variety of options available to them.

While the gap year or “year out” has been a common and popular rite of passage in Australia and many countries in Europe for decades, traditionally North American students have ridden the academic conveyor belt all the way from preschool to university without a break.

Now the tides are changing and many soon-to-be high school graduates are saying they’re burnt out, and need more time before deciding what they want to take at university. Instead of packing for their freshman year, they are now booking their flights to go volunteering in Africa, or work on a yacht in the Caribbean.

North America is starting to catch on to the “gap year” syndrome, and for good reason. Amid concerns about drop-out rates, researchers now say that students who go straight to university often find themselves in a program that doesn’t interest them, and are more likely to change programs, thus prolonging their degree and increasing their debt level, and they are more likely to quit. Experts now say that going straight to university may be short-sighted.

Taking a gap year has never been easier. Many universities are now willing to defer start dates for a year – York University is embracing this gap year phenomenon with its Bridging the Gap program and “celebrates” a student’s choice to take a year off to gain work experience, do community service or go on an international exchange and will reserve the student’s admission spot for up to a year provided he or she is accepted into the program.

Harvard University, one of the top universities in the world, has always been ahead of its time and for the past 40 years has proposed that students take a year out in its letter of admission.

Is there a downside to taking a gap year? The Statistics Canada report found that students who delay postsecondary education don’t face a disadvantage in the labor market later on – as long as they actually complete their program once started. Even though there are no formal studies on the number of gap year students who do make their way to university, admissions staff say that only a few drop off the radar. On the contrary, a year out can make kids more focused, better prepared for university life and more likely to complete their university degree.

Although it may be a daunting prospect for parents and kids to divert from the “safe” bound-for-university-after-high-school route, the rewards and benefits can be well worth stepping out of that comfort zone. To read reviews of Gap Year and study abroad options, check out Student Travels section.

Reporting by Katie Idle

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