When it comes to gap years or university-run bridging programmes, the big question for parents is whether taking a year out after graduating high school will benefit your child or will they find it hard to return to study after an extended break?
To answer this, we chatted to UWCSEA’s University Advising team. They work closely with university admissions offices across the world, especially in the USA, Europe, Asia, Canada and Australia. The good news is, they believe the benefits of a gap year far outweigh any disadvantages – with some universities even recommending your child spread their wings after graduation.
Many of UWCSEA’s alumni are taking heed of this advice and drawing on the school’s extensive Gap Year Programme, with an increasing percentage of the graduating class (currently 8 to 10%) opting to take time off before starting university.
It’s important to note that a gap year can be several months long, rather than a full year. This may be the case when northern and southern hemisphere academic years overlap – for example, when a student graduates in June from an international school and needs to wait six to eight months or so before starting a university the following year. With the right guidance this ‘required’ break can be both memorable and productive.
Universities consider students who’ve taken a productive gap year to be valuable members of their college community, since they tend to be more mature, confident and purposeful, as well as enthusiastic about returning to academic life.
They comment particularly on students’ enhanced inter-personal and communication skills, greater sense of identity and, often, their enhanced abilities as team players and leaders.
Many UWCSEA alumni say their gap year was an incredible learning experience and prepared them to make the most of university life. They list adaptability and resilience (usually in the face of having to juggle plans and overcome failure) among the character-building traits gained during their gap year pursuits.
What is considered a valuable gap year?
Universities value a range of gap year activities, including one or more of the following:
- Paid or volunteer work
- Community service
- Language study
- Short-term courses
- Caring for ill or elderly family members
- Work experience in a particular field
- Attempting extreme physical challenges, such as mountain-climbing
- Development in a particular sport or playing sports at a competitive level
- National Service obligations
Is there value for future employers?
Both UWCSEA alumni and employers say that gap year experiences can be a real talking point during job interviews. What’s more, skills such as teamwork, communication, languages, leadership and problem-solving – many of which may have been nurtured during a gap year – can make a prospective employee stand out.
Which fields is it particularly important for?
When it comes to highly selective courses such as medicine, veterinary practice and law, valuable and relevant work experience can boost confidence during interviews and improve students’ chances of being accepted. UWCSEA has seen several cases of students being unsuccessful when applying during Grade 12, but making the cut when reapplying during a gap year, often because the gap time enabled those students to participate in sustained, meaningful activities related to their chosen profession.
With thanks to Dr Mallika Ramdas, former Head of University Advising at UWCSEA Dover, for her contribution.
To read more advice from UWCSEA’s university advisors, visit their What’s Next blog, which contains advice for parents of High School students (and students themselves) who are graduating from an international school. Or, to find out more about taking a Gap Year hope over here.
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