Words by

Tyson Day

Published

September 18, 2020

Take a GAP Year in 2021, perhaps wait…

In the past I personally have always been a big fan of GAP years, the opportunity to try multiple jobs as a causal, part-timer or full-time employee gives you an understanding of what you like and don't like in work and this process is extremely valuable.


The opportunity to travel both domestic and international destinations provide opportunties to learn and better understand ourselves and what our passions and values are. Equally further social engagements with friends and different community groups can bring about development and refined social skills after your schooling life. Mash all of these together, and you have one fantastic GAP year and experience out of high school.

I meet my first core group of mates and my best friend in my gap year after high school. I worked as many as ten casual jobs in the year from 2008-2009 (I graduated high school in 2007), went to multiple music concerts and festivals with friends and developed memories that I will never forget. I also bought my first car a 1998 Holden Commodore to which I impressed my then-girlfriend who is now my wife. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to travel overseas but did this in the later years from the money I saved in my GAP year. One could say 2008 was a big year for me! (A snap from the family album).

Unfortunately the opportunity for current young people to experience these opportunities are slipping through their fingers, with many faced with slim chances of gaining employment after high school or becoming underemployed in their current role. The importance of having a tertiary education is becoming more and more important. The impact of COVID-19 has also meant that current students are not experiencing celebrations like schoolies, 18th birthdays (one of the highlights of the final year of school) and other major schooling events like swimming, athletics or school concerts. This is obviously having a huge impact on the current year 12 cohort across Victoria with mental wellbeing and their level of engagement in school at an all-time low. Higher Education is becoming incredibly important as the employment market is becoming saturated with qualifications, with many entry-level (full time) roles requiring a bachelor degree as a minimum. This can prove very difficult for a young person to land directly after high school unless they have a connection or an opportunity through their network.

Looking forward into 2021, should young people be considering a GAP year or should the focus be on tertiary study and apprenticeships? This is a question to be discussed in greater detail and a case by case basis for each individual. In this article, I’m going to attempt to share my view as a career counsellor in the current climate and what would be the best use of time for young people as I think time well spent is time and money gained in the long term!

What are you looking to achieve in 2021? This is the first question we need to raise as this will support the direction you will aid someone. For example, if an individual knows what interests they want to pursue further and for many students if the travel card is what they wanted in their GAP year, they may as well go and study and travel at a later date. They can also combine studying abroad in their education decisions (many students are unaware of this at the high school level).

This has not always been my view, but times have changed. The first year of uni is one of the hardest years as many subjects are dry and can feel like they don’t relate to your career vision. But if you can get the first year of uni out of the way without the distraction of concerts, travel and any other mass gatherings (like O-week), I would recommend jumping into it.

Equally, a lot of students move around in different courses providing an opportunity to jump and change focus areas if you are not enjoying it. Education can be a great focus when there is minimal distractions (if we don’t include COVID!). Remote learning has also been a case of demonstrating what it means to be self-directed with study. This is an important aspect to learn as all students will need this mindset in their first year of study.

If the student is unclear on what they want to do and wanted to take a GAP year to figure this out, general studies associated with their interests is a great option (if international travel was one of the reasons for the GAP year). On a side note, Domestic travel and volunteering in a different state or region can also be an option, depending on restrictions at the time.

A potential challenge with this is that general studies degrees including arts and humanities will be more expensive due to the government changes in course fees However, general study courses can be a great approach to understanding further career opportunities, industry knowledge and developing an understanding of what else is out there in a particular area of interests. Bachelor degrees in Arts, Science, Business etc. are suitable for this because it allows a student in many cases to pick up electives that can shape their learning and understanding without making a commitment to a particular job. When you jump into a course most of the time, you are learning and developing thinking methodology or concepts that can be translated into different settings, not just one job. This is an important concept to talk through with a young person, as many think degree equals one type of job. Opening their mind to the concept of learning a way of thinking to be able to apply to many jobs is a very valuable lesson.

When you are studying a specific area like robotics engineering, it is obviously more targeted. However, one could also argue the learnings and engineering thinking will serve the student into many other potential areas as they are developing, critical thinking, problem-solving and ‘failing forward’ thinking

Some of the dangers of taking a GAP year (in this climate) is that the opportunity to volunteer, work and travel is minimal. It is hard to predict how long it will take for the world to get back to a sense of ‘normality’. This means that majority of young people have minimal opportunity for development (aside from education) and can’t engage with experiential learning activities as freely as one could, this can have a huge impact on their mental health. My heart goes out to any young person who is having a GAP year currently as in most cases (especially Victoria), you have spent your time at home with your parents or your home environment, to which there is only so many books, documentaries and video games you can engage with before you go insane.

Given the difficulty to engage with some of these areas, it is an excellent opportunity to engage with study and continue learning while the world recovers and rebuilds. When opportunities do arrive from COVID (which they will), the individual will be well equipped and will have a seat at the table to support the rebuild with the knowledge gained from study in 2021.

As mentioned above, I have posted about GAP years in the past and the importance of these and taking them when a student is unsure of a direction. I have shared these in previous posts and still believe these are important. My recommendation now is postponing your GAP year to the middle of your studies (if you still feel the need). You can look at exploring a GAP year as well once you have worked for a few years. I have found this to bring about even more perspective and understanding of self and kickstart your next career move as you will have many!

If you know of a young person who needs assistance with any of the concept discussed above shoot an email to tyson@arrivethrive.com.au happy to take the discussion deeper. Stay happy and healthy!

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