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Mind the gap

Matrics who are tempted to take a year off after their school careers – whether it is because they feel they just need a break, or because they don’t yet know if or what they want to study – should think twice about their decision, says education expert, Peter Kriel.

“There are significant implications to taking a so-called gap year instead of directly entering studies. Chief among these is the fact that graduates who went to study straight after school and who completed their qualification within the required timeframe, are significantly better off than matriculants who elected to enter the workplace right away or who opted for a gap year.”

“A gap year doesn’t necessarily mean that you take off a year to travel the world and pretty much do nothing as the term was understood in the past. The concept has evolved to include other activities, such as getting a job to earn some money or gain work experience, or volunteering. However, while these options are still better than just relaxing for a year before entering studies, they will still put you behind your peers in terms of studying and earning potential.”

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Another problem with taking a gap year, is that one loses one’s “study muscles”, says Peter.

“After that year, getting back into the habit of studying and focusing on academics are major challenges which are best avoided. But, there are ways to make a gap year work, which will lessen its impact on a person’s long-term success in the workplace.”

“If you do decide to take a gap year, it is crucial that you at least do something to further your education during that time. A great option in this instance is to do some distance or part-time courses.”

This is a particularly attractive option for those matriculants who are hesitant to sign up for a full degree straight away because they are still uncertain of what they want to do with their life.

“Doing some short or distance courses allows you to investigate your options and interests without the financial and time commitments required of full-time degree study,” notes Peter.

“This means that you can get a better idea of where your passion and talents lie, while at the same time earning qualifications that will undoubtedly boost your career prospects. Additionally, and very importantly, these qualifications will show future employers that you were productive after school and ensure you don’t have a great big blank on your CV’s timeline.”

When looking to study further look for a qualification that will make you employable – one that is recognised by employers and has a curriculum that is relevant in the workplace of today.

“You must also choose an institution whose curricula and learning processes enable you to master work-ready skills so that you have a competitive ‘hit the ground running’ advantage. Having a portfolio of work at graduation, for example, allows you to instantly showcase what you have learnt and what makes you an attractive prospect to potential employers.

“Finally, 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.”


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