Episode 14: Who SHOULD NOT take a gap year

Families are starting to feel the pressure for a post-secondary decision as the deadline for accepting an offer for fall 2020 gets closer. This pressure has people debating if accepting is the right choice or some time off of traditional learning is required. But is a gap year the right decision as you feel this pressure? Maybe, but it’s not for everybody.


There’s no denying that gap years are powerful. Many people who take a gap year find that they have built more confidence and independence while becoming better decision-makers and having trust in their own abilities to successfully navigate life – we heard this firsthand when Grace and Max shared their gap year stories! But, this doesn’t mean it’s for everybody at this time in their life.


In this week’s Gap Year Podcast, I share some of the red flags that pop up in conversations with families that tell me that a gap year is NOT the right step for them. Take a listen as it might help get some clarity for your family’s decision.



Right now, many families are having to make some really challenging decisions about post-secondary. COVID-19 has shifted what people were expecting for fall 2020, especially those entering into college and university. Will online learning be the norm for the fall semester or the whole year? Is moving forward with an online learning model best for you? If you choose to take a gap year, what can you even do during a pandemic? What’s the right decision to make right?


Unfortunately, there isn’t really any clear right decision to be made right now. There are too many unknowns. Universities don’t have the answers, CanGap doesn’t have the answers, and families don’t have the answers. We are making decisions based on the limited information we have and our best projections on what the future holds and the values that we hold – if you want some more tips on decision making right now, you can check out another podcast episode fully about value-based decision making.


Even when putting together as much of the currently available information available, there’s no formula to making the right decision about post-secondary during a pandemic. I wish there was. But, there are some things to remember while you decide that will help to keep you grounded in your choice, despite everything else going on.

  • You may feel like you’re missing information, but as a family, you’ll have a lot of the information you already need. You’ll know all the factors that impact your decision better than anybody else – remind yourself that as you go through the decision making process. You likely will end up making the best choice you can.

  • Nothing is permanent – including COVID-19. We have proven throughout this that we are adaptable beings. If your choice ends up feeling like the wrong one for you in September, it’s not permanent! You can make another choice or adjust your plan. If you start a program and it doesn’t feel like the right fit, you can look at dropping out or switching majors. If your gap year isn’t feeling right for you, you can pick up some credit courses and start working towards a future major.

  • The worst-case scenarios aren’t that bad. If you chose to take a gap year and it was a big flop, you might feel demotivated and that it was a waste of time. No one is going to die and it won’t be the worst decision you will ever make in your life, trust me, I have years of my life that weren’t as exciting or productive as I had hoped. If you chose to go to school and it’s a bust, you can try again later when school is back in person.

Now that you’ve taken some time to remind yourself that you’re likely going to make a better decision than you thought, we can provide you some more guidance on gap years and if it is or isn’t the right choice for you.


CanGap’s goal is for people to have purposeful gap years if a gap year is the right fit. If it’s not, we’re comfortable saying it. That’s why we know some of the indicators that it may not be a right fit, and we hope these can help you make a decision as well. Here are some of those factors.


School Considerations

More and more colleges and universities announcing the move to online learning for the fall semester has sparked a “school vs. gap year” feeling.


A gap year is NOT for you if:

  • You are in a highly competitive program and your admission in futures years is in question. If your program has given you access to a limited number of highly competitive spots and isn’t granting deferrals, you should go so you don’t lose the spot you worked so hard for

  • You excel in online learning. You have enjoyed taking your grade 12 courses by distance and the freedom that comes along with it. If you’re thriving in this environment now, chances are the distance studies in university will be a good fit for you.

  • You will lose a significant scholarship if you don’t start post-secondary. Financial pressures are real, especially now as unemployment is at an all-time high across the country. While some scholarships can be deferred, others cannot. If you’d lose a big amount of money, go to school.

Family Considerations

You can’t do a gap year alone. You need the support of the entire family.


You should NOT take a gap year if:

  • The parents and child taking a gap year are disconnected – an open line of communication between the two parties is key to a successful gap year. Parents need to be cheerleaders, motivators and supporters as students plan their gap year. There are so many decisions to be made when you chart your own path and are developing the skills to make it happen.

  • The parents are not comfortable with risk and failure. Sometimes in an effort to support our kids, we act as bulldozers, clearing the path for our kids. In order for a gap year to be purposeful, parents need to be comfortable being the “guide on the side” and allowing their kids to take the lead.

  • Everyone isn’t on the same page. If the parents are onboard but the kid isn’t or the kid wants it but the parents are supportive, you’ve got some work to do. A gap year isn’t the right choice, but maybe school isn’t either. Spend some time to understand each other’s preservatives before committing to either pathway.

  • There are unrealistic expectations placed on a gap year. Families need to have an idea of the amount of work that goes into planning a purposeful gap year (HINT: it’s a lot. It’s rewarding work, but it doesn’t happen overnight). This year more than ever, these expectations need to be kept realistic as COVID-19 places restrictions on all parts of life, including a gap year. The last thing anyone needs this year is more disappointment so keeping a realistic vision of what is possible is central to a purposeful gap year.


Gapper Personality Considerations

There are certain personality traits and skills that I look for. When someone isn’t going to be a good fit for a gap year, I can tell because the exhibit some of the following traits:

  • Unmotivated: This is a tricky one because by brain science, motivation and initiative aren’t always even possible for teenagers. So, we look for a passion anywhere. If the kid shows that they have any passion or interest, they will be successful during their gap year. Whether it’s sports, video games, makeup, fashion or computer programming, they show that they know how to commit to something and that they can follow through.

  • Unable to make decisions: If people are unable to make decisions even with the support of their family or gap year coach, it may not be the right fit for somebody. There are SO many decisions to make when planning and executing a gap year. Most people can be coached to make decisions, but some are constantly stuck in the “analysis paralysis” and get stressed about the decisions. A gap year requires more decisions than a post-secondary program, where courses and schedules are made for the student. If you’re struggling with decision making, it may be better to go to post-secondary and work on these skills in a more controlled environment.


While this is a summary of who may not want to take a gap year, there are some characteristics we see that make us believe somebody would be successful at their gap year. What do we look for?

  • Families who see the value of a gap year: Families who are actively committing to a gap year because they think it is the best fit for their kid, not a second-rate option, will find more success in one as they are fully invested

  • Solid, supportive relationships: A student who has family members and mentors that can help along the way is a huge positive

  • Curiosity & interest: If you want to explore, learn, and do something different, you can plan your gap year around these curiosities and any interests

  • Families that ask for guidance: Families recognize that there is more to a gap year than they know. By seeking help, they are already committing to making it an amazing year.

  • Families that are ready to put in the work: Like anything else, you only get out what you put in


If you’re still curious about a gap year after seeing who may and may not succeed during one, please book a FREE 30 minute call with CanGap so we can provide some guidance and clarity.

You can also join our next online Explore, Dream, & Design Your Gap Year Workshop to gain some more valuable insights.


Select CanGap Programs are sponsored by:

CONTACT 

RBC_FutureLaunch_R_rgb_PE.png
IEC Business Card EN.JPG

647.821.7060

info@cangap.ca

  • Instagram
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon

© Canadian Gap Year Association Inc. 2020.  All rights reserved.