Gap year popularity rises with students, COVID-19 lockdowns and costs factors
After learning disruptions across the country from COVID-19, students in their final year of high school might be looking to take a year off instead of continuing to post-secondary.
Taking what’s known as a 'gap year', students pause between finishing high school and continuing on to post-secondary educations.
Michelle Dittmer, president and co-founder of the Canadian Gap Year Association, says the number of students looking to take a year off has grown exponentially.
"The numbers have skyrocketed," she told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday. "Previous to the pandemic, there was the stigmatization against a gap year, and the slowdown and the mental health impacts that we see in our young people has really opened the door and opened people's minds to alternative pathways and what's needed for our young people."
During lockdowns, the pandemic created a lot of tension for young people who may have struggled with their mental health, school work, and personal matters. Dittmer says, although COVID-19 is a factor, many students are taking a year off because of the cost of post-secondary.
"Their number one concern right now is finances," she said. "So that pressure, being able to work for a year, earn money, reduce student debt in the long run, that's really appealing for them."
A year off can also be filled with opportunities to invest in hobbies or activities they may have missed during the pandemic.
"They're able to perform on that academic level, but socially, they're missing that full complement of skill sets that is going to allow them to succeed in university/college and in life," she said.
Dittmer says it is not uncommon for parents to be anxious about a gap year, not understanding the potential benefits of taking one.
"Parents are bringing their lived experience to their parenting style, and that wasn't necessarily part of their journey," she said.
Dittmer believes a gap year is an alternative before post-secondary that can make some parents feel like they are failing.
"Parents aren't immune to pressure from their peers," she said.
Hearing about other young people pursuing post-secondary education or starting a career when your youth is taking a year off can bring up emotions of judgment, Dittmer explained.
"Sometimes those pieces can really take hold on us," she said. "And we can be fearful because we don't know enough about the gap year pathway."
The biggest fear for parents is that their student will never proceed to post-secondary.
"I've been doing this for over 15 years, and even the stats are showing between 81 per cent and 90 per cent return to post-secondary, so the stats are in your favour," Dittmer said.
About 25 per cent of the families coming to the Canadian Gap Year Association want their student to take a year off, Dittmer says, and sometimes parents believe their student may not be ready for the next step.
Focusing on what the young person can accomplish or work towards in a year off are helpful ways to outline what a gap year can look like.