'I want to take a gap year but my parents don't want me to. What should I do?'

'I want to take a gap year but my parents don't want me to. What should I do?’

Ash, 17, Newcastle

A lot of students want to take a break after completing Year 12 but it sounds like you need to look at your motivations and reassure your parents that you’re not going to spend the year in your pyjamas in front of the TV. Taking a gap year can be an incredibly enriching experience but you need to think carefully about what you’re going to do with it. Do you want to use your gap year to work, travel or volunteer?

Here are some things to consider:

1. If you’re planning to apply to a tertiary course before you take your gap year, you need to check the school’s deferment policy. Most institutions allow you to defer for up to one year, but others may not be as flexible. If you’re applying for a scholarship, review the conditions carefully and make sure there isn’t a ‘no deferral’ policy attached.

2. What do you really want to get out of your gap year? If you just want to travel you could look at student exchange or study abroad options during your degree. This is a cost effective way to experience living in another country, while at the same time getting credit towards your degree. You could also consider completing one semester abroad and spending the other semester travelling.

3. Do you want to plan your own gap year or have someone organise it for you? There are numerous organisations that run programs, for example Lattitude Global Volunteering, Real Gap Experience and Student Placement Australia New Zealand. These companies will do the organising for you, but they can be expensive. Australian Volunteers International also offers volunteer programs – research all your options before committing.

4. Do you want to gain work experience? A gap year can be a good opportunity to earn some money, develop new skills and gain experience. If you have a particular course in mind I recommend trying to get a taste of employment in this area, even if you have to volunteer or do work experience. Relevant employment will give you a chance to see if you’re really interested in pursuing this area and will give you an edge over other students when it comes to applying for graduate jobs.

5. Do you want to gain experience to help you get into a course? If you didn’t get your first preference, a gap year may give you an opportunity to undertake experience that could give you a better chance of getting in. Be mindful there are no guarantees and you should contact the institution/course coordinator to discuss this option further – don’t make any assumptions.

There are many positives to taking a gap year – it really depends on what you want to do with it and want to achieve. The important thing is to come up with a preliminary plan and think carefully before jumping in!

Jo Messer is a Career Development Specialist who has many years of experience in supporting and guiding students and graduates of some of Australia’s most respected universities, as well as mature-aged clients, across all facets of their career. She is a Professional Member of CDAA and an active member of NAGCAS. Whether you have a specific question about how to achieve your career goal or something more general, Jo is available to provide you with up-to-date advice.

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