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Margin Notes

The gap year comes to Canada

The “gap year” – taking a year off between high school and college or university – is a well-established tradition in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. And it now seems to be gaining traction among Canadians.


The “gap year” – taking a year off between high school and college or university – is a well-established tradition in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. And it now seems to be gaining traction among Canadians.

For example, Travel CUTS, the student-owned travel company, offers gap-year abroad programs. There’s also a new group,, that does “personalized gap year planning” for students and young adults.

Co-founder Tara Rinomato sees the gap year as “an opportunity to strengthen soft skills and enhance an application form/resume and we’re thrilled to bring these life-changing experiences to our clients.”

That sounds a bit mercenary to me – I’ve always thought of the gap year as more of an opportunity to go backpacking in exotic locales and find oneself – but I do understand that some people are a bit more goal-oriented. And no doubt parents would be more comfortable with their kids taking a year off if it was a bit more structured.

York University is also tapping into the gap year phenomenon with its Bridging the Gap program. The university says it “celebrates” a student’s choice to take a year off to gain work experience, do community service or go on an international exchange and will reserve the student’s admission spot for up to a year provided he or she is accepted into the program.

Is there a downside to taking a gap year? Not really, according to a 2008 Statistics Canada report published jointly with Canadian Policy Research Networks. The report found that students who delay postsecondary education don’t face a disadvantage in the labour market later on – as long as they actually complete their PSE once started.

Of course, that is the worry of many parents: that if their child delays going to college or university, he or she may simply decide not to return.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Jo VanEvery / June 25, 2009 at 11:29

    In my experience as a university professor, going straight to university when a young person wanted to take a year off (or more) doesn’t necessarily have positive outcomes. I’ve seen students perform poorly and even have serious mental health difficulties in this situation.

    Taking time off and coming to university when you really know what you want to get out of it seems to be a much more sensible course, especially given the cost of a university education. If kids never go, then presumably it is because they have found a way to earn a living that doesn’t require them to.

    As for parents, they can set limits on how long they will support a child who is neither gainfully employed nor studying. My partner’s parents wouldn’t let him live at home for more than one year. He took 2 years between school and university and the second year moved in with friends. He is now a very successful university professer. But he studied something completely different than he had planned in his final year of school.

  2. May / June 25, 2010 at 13:04

    I agree – I saw many of my fellow students come straight from high school, and most of them did not complete their studies on time. While many dropped out, others took a year off between studies, or failed classes enough to need to take more time to complete their programs. However, those of us who had taken a semester, year, or more to work, travel, or volunteer had a much higher chance of succeeding in our studies, absorbing more, were more grateful for the opportunities and took them more seriously, and had a better chance to finish our studies on schedule.

  3. Vivi / June 5, 2011 at 03:49

    I may be late to the party, but I have to say that I really regret not having taken a gap year. It was mainly pressure from my parents to go straight away, since I “knew what I wanted to do”, but also because some of her friends’ kids had decided not to go back after taking a year off.

    I want to be an author. You don’t need to have a university degree to do that, and I think being kind of shoved into attending university right away hasn’t helped me at all in gaining my own independence. Sure, I moved to another city to attend uni, but I wasn’t able to get a job, and now I find myself wondering what the f*ck I’m supposed to do: I want to get my own place for my next year of uni if I decide to go back (hated dorms so much!), but I don’t have any work experience to help me get a job, and my parents have said that they won’t support me financially if I decide not to attend uni anymore (which I’m considering) and will throw me out of the house if I don’t have a job to help with paying for things like food (did I mention I don’t have any experience to get a job? or that they’re really hard to find in my area right now?).

    Seriously, I hardly know what to do with myself right now. I know that I want to 1) move out ASAP, 2) get published, and 3) get a job so that I can live on my own while I work on the whole writing and getting published thing. But how do I do that when I have no job experience and little sense of who I am as a human being?

  4. robert stewart / August 31, 2011 at 13:04

    I understand, Vivi. I was encouraged to finish hi school. (get that hi school diploma, son, and you can get a good job). Armed with that diploma I sought that good job. “Well, you have your military obligation ahead of you, son. If we hire you, you’ll get drafted, and all the training we gave you will be wasted.” (Yeah, I live down here in the colonies, a militaristic country). So I joined the service, got that behind me and went forth seeking that good job. “Well, we can’t hire you son, you have no experience.” At this point, I think I may have screamed. But eventually, my state established a Trade School system, I learned a trade and became a bona fide member of the proletariat. So, hang in there.

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