The pros and cons of taking a gap year

Image: Twitter/@WSJ

Although taking a gap year is a popular and enticing option for many matrics, its consequences should be carefully weighed.

Matric students across the country face a tense and uncertain few weeks as they try and make the most informed decisions regarding their futures. While no one can predict with 100% accuracy the way things will turn out, there are a couple of things that every student must take into consideration, reports Letaba Herald.

Although most matrics currently writing exams think they have a plan for next year, there are many who are still undecided about the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, there are also many who will have their plans thrown into disarray by their results or changed personal circumstances. Some key questions a significant number of matrics will have to face in the coming months are:

  • Should I study or work next year?
  • What about a gap year?
  • What happens if I study and fail?

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Dr Felicity Coughlan, director of The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa’s largest and most accredited private higher education institution, said: “While no one can predict with 100% accuracy the way things will turn out, there are a couple of realities to take into consideration.

“The first thing to note is that graduates generally earn more throughout their lives than those without post-school qualifications, and they are more likely to find employment.

“So if you are in a position to get a higher education, you must certainly choose that route rather than just go straight into the workplace.”

A 2009 study by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit indicated that earnings showed an improvement from matric to a degree. At the time, a person with an average matric received R1,100 a month in their first job, but this increased to R3,100 a month with an average diploma or certificate, and rose to R5,400 a month with an average degree. And people with a tertiary education were twice as likely to be employed, according to the research.

“However, it is equally important that you study something that is employable, i.e. that is recognised by employers. You must also choose an institution that will provide you with two additional critical things: Firstly, the curriculum and learning process should enable you to master work-ready skills so that you have a competitive ‘hit the ground running’ advantage.

“Secondly, you must choose an institution that will give you the best possible chance of succeeding and completing your qualification in the minimum time. Every additional year of study leaves a long-term financial impact, so consider things such as student support, class sizes, and the quality of lecturing and facilities.”

Although taking a gap year is a popular option for many matrics, and can be an attractive prospect after having spent 12 years on school benches, its pros and cons should be carefully weighed, said Coughlan.

“Unfortunately, a gap year puts you a year behind your peers in terms of studying and earning potential. But, if you use the time to make some money or gain life or work experience and you incur no debt, it could be worth considering. Particularly so if it also means that when you do eventually start your studies, you are more focused and able to succeed and graduate in minimum time.”

Coughlan said from a financial perspective, the student who studied straight after school and graduated in three years was significantly better off than matriculants who elected any other option – be it entering the workplace or taking a gap year.

Coughlan said the numbers to demonstrate the impact of these scenarios were clear – even if one used very simple calculations which ignored living expenses, the cost of debt, and any other particular condition.

“Time is money. And wasting time has a sustained financial impact throughout a person’s productive life,” she said.

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