Gap year? Try growth year.

Posted by Dayne Williams on March 17th, 2021

The elusive gap year, to some parents the word sends chilling thoughts of young matriculants loafing around the house while their peers get a head start in the big daunting world of work or study. Others still, wholeheartedly endorse this experience as an opportunity to grow and embrace the world in all its chaotic wonder. Which side of the fence you sit on is usually a reflection of personal experience or perhaps borne from the understandable desire to see you child achieve autonomy and drive.

In my personal capacity and that of an Educational Psychologist in Cape Town I have experienced and witnessed first that, if done right a gap year can be the kind of experience that has a lasting and meaningful effect on an individual. Parent can be forgiven for wanting their child to go straight into University. Sometimes this may reflect a passing bursary opportunity or the understanding that finances are, at best, unreliable so study well its possible. However a potential problem arises when students find themselves thrust into the situation where they have to choose something as choose quickly. I mean something is better than nothing right?

The problem with this scenario is that students often choose courses of study for the wrong reasons. For example take the student that in an effort to appease their parents they picked something that seemed exciting like culinary arts. After a few years of watching MasterChef they thought this looks amazing only to realize 6 months in that it requires an exceptional amount of work and long hours to reach the upper echelons of the restaurant industry. Or perhaps the BCOM student who for lack of any clear paths decided on a more generalized path only to drop out after a year essentially wasting money that may have been better spent elsewhere.

My point is that while some students find their paths early on many students take a while to figure it all out and that totally ok. Further still many require the services on an Educational Psychologist who may specialize in Career guidance or maybe offer to conduct a career assessment. They aren’t going to be severely disadvantaged if they don’t jump straight into studies, In fact if anything I would argue that taking some time to figure out the facets that form part of you and aligning this with a career places the advantage with you. For decades the importance of aligning ones values with their career choice has been identified as a necessity. A year off can go a long way to figuring out what those values actually are. After 12 years in school you may not have been exposed to enough life experience to really comprehend what those are.

With this in mind I add a disclaimer. Gap years cannot and must not be a year long holiday. They need to entail some form of personal growth. The challenges and joys of working with colleagues, financial independence and dealing with customers to name a few. These are all valuable aspects that can be learnt from this unique life opportunity.

The value of this has not been lost on the multitude a companies that tailor packages and options for students wishing to work in a foreign location. Whether that be working in ski resorts in Canada, picking apples in Australia or sailing the world on a cruise ship, the options are immense and worth looking into. Alternatively, not all families are in the financial position to send their child overseas but may for example look at local options in which they gain work experience for a year while researching and pursuing their interests. The bottom line is for many the intensity of matric makes really contemplating the next move so to speak a challenging if not impossible one. A bit of time to get to know oneself and enjoy the once in a lifetime opportunity to be young, free and at large in the world soaking in all the realities of what it means to be alive should be cherished.

So to those who still may feel uncomfortable I warmly encourage you reconsider the potential that a gap…or rather growth year possesses.    

Dayne Williams in an Educational Psychologist practicing in the Southern Suburbs, Cape Town. He works with adolescents providing career guidance and assessments. For more information visit

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Dayne Williams

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Dayne Williams
Joined: March 17th, 2021
Articles Posted: 7

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