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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

What To Do If You Leave your Post-Secondary Program

Finding the right path after high school isn’t easy – and anybody who pretends it is, is a liar.

Okay, not necessarily. For some, it may come easily. But if you find yourself fumbling around trying to find the right path for you, you’re not alone. University? A trade, maybe?

The pressure to choose a program after high school can be daunting. Everybody around you seems to know exactly what they want to do.

And the pressure may only continue when you’ve started your program! People are sharing photos of their Frosh week groups, love letters to their roommates, and cute pics while studying as the semester goes on – we’ve all seen the Snapchats and Instagram stories of Starbucks, highlighters, and notebooks opened in the library.

This Doesn’t Mean You’ve Failed

When the start of your post-secondary journey isn’t quite looking or feeling the same and you decide to step away, it can feel like a failure.

But dropping out or taking time off isn’t a failure at all – in fact, it is an important first step to finding out what the right option for you actually is! After all, if you’re staying in a program you’re unhappy in, you’re just prolonging getting to the point of having to look for a change.

So, what do you do if you decide to take a gap in your post-secondary journey?

Why Do People Leave Post-Secondary?

The decision to leave your post-secondary choice is a really personal choice, and the reasons behind it vary. But it’s more common than you may think – fewer than half of students who start their undergraduate degree program finish within four years.

The most important thing to do is make the most of this time! There is so much opportunity – let’s go over the best ways to take advantage of your time off.

What To Do If You Take Time Off

Taking time off mid-year may seem more daunting than deciding right away to take time off in September, but it’s not! If you’re left your program after the first semester, halfway through, or after the first week, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about how you move forward and use this time.

Here are our top recommendations of what to do when you decide to take time off of your post-secondary studies.

Talk To Your Parents

How many times have you tried to hide something from your parents, only to find out that they knew the whole time?

Spare yourself that moment and the stress of trying to hide it! The first thing you want to do is share your decision with your parents, especially if you’re going to be living at home again.

Be honest and open with your parents about your decision, why you felt it was the right choice, and your plan for this time in your life. Your parents only want what’s best for you, so showing them why this is the best choice right now is huge.

And chances are, your parents will be more supportive than you think! Give them the chance to show you just that

Look into Refunds – Quickly!

The last thing you want to do is spend money on a program you aren’t attending, so consider withdrawal dates when you make this decision! Most colleges and universities offer different withdrawal windows. You can get more or less money refunded, depending how far into the program you get, until refunds are no longer available.

You can talk to your university or college on the dates or find the on line. You’ll also want to make sure you understand all the costs you are entitled to getting back – look at things like student fees you may have paid.

Evaluate What Wasn’t Right

Since you decided to leave your program, something wasn’t right. But what was it? What wasn’t fitting about your program? What made this not the right experience for you?

These are all important questions to ask yourself to make sure whatever you try next is at least a step in the right direction – no sense making the same mistakes twice!

Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to figure out why your program may have not been the right fit:

  • Did you find what you were learning about interesting? Maybe in theory you liked the idea of studying sciences, but you dread every class. Are you enjoying the business electives you took more than your mandatory history courses? Courses in college and university are very different from the introduction to the topic you may have got in high school.

  • Did you like where you were? Location, location, location! This can be a huge factor in finding the right next step outside of high school. Maybe you went somewhere far away and realized you’re more of a home body than you thought, or stayed super close to home and are finding it hard to figure out your path independent of your hometown. Either way, this can have a huge impact on your experience.

  • Was such a big change too much at once? You may have the same classmates from kindergarten through high school, and now are surrounded by strangers. Your classes of 30 people have literally grown 20 times bigger – hello 600 people lectures! You’re living alone for the first time. All of these changes can be super overwhelming, which is totally normal! And it’s just as normal to need a step back from the situation to take smaller steps to prepare you for it.

This isn’t a complete list of everything that could have made it the wrong fit, so continue to evaluate the different parts of your experience if what felt right doesn’t fit into any of the above. The more time you take to learn from what wasn’t right just gives you more learnings to apply to your next decision on your post-secondary path!

Set Goals

Long term goals will be key to helping plan your steps after your gap year and can help you decide how you spend this time.

For example, returning to school in September could be one of your goals! Look into registration dates for other schools, or ensure you know the dates to re-enroll where you were currently studying. Maybe another goal is to investigate programs at different schools – book tours at these places or reach out to program alumni. If another goal is to look at different career paths, maybe you add experiences into your plan that would give you exposure

All of your goals don’t have to be school focused, either! You could have a goal to save a certain amount of money or visit a new country. But deciding on the goals that matter to you will help you plan your time off.

So, how do you achieve these goals?

Use This Time!

Now that you know your long-term goals, you want to make the most of your time between now and those goals. So how do you make sure you do that?

The most important thing to do is PLAN! Whether it’s on your own or with help, make a plan to ensure you’re getting the most out of this time and taking steps to those goals you set – from what you’re experiencing in the moment to stepping stones that will help you in the future. Here are some valuable ways to make the most of this break from the classroom.

Find a Mentor

Sometimes, one of the best ways to figure out your next steps is to follow behind somebody who has taken these steps before you. This is a mentor!

A mentor is somebody that can serve as a trusted advisor to you during your time off – and beyond, if lucky! They can give you somebody to bounce ideas off of, learn from (especially if they also took time off or are in an industry you feel interested in!), and a person to hold you accountable.

Some places you can look for a mentor include:

  • Your family: Think cousins, aunts, or uncles. Your parents (and siblings, if you have them!) already have such an influence as you have grown up with them. You’ll want the chance to define a mentorship outside your nuclear family

  • An older employee or manager at a job: If you find a job during your time in between studies, you may naturally find a manager or more seasoned employee that you look up to. This could be a great mentor.

  • Past teachers: Do you have any high school teachers that you really connected with? Reach out to them!

Get Work Experience

A job is a great way to build your resume and gain new experience that may help you decide on what you may enjoy studying in post-secondary!

It’s also a great way to make some cash – to save, spend, or put back into different experiences.

Having a job is also a great way to form a routine and keep you busy. It’s nice to have time off, but not when all your time is off time. Even if you only work part-time, knowing a certain amount of hours in your week will be occupied with something is key to a routine.


They say the world is a book, and if you don’t travel you only read one page.

Cliche, yes, but true! Getting to see the world around you – from local road trips to flights across oceans – is huge for personal development and developing skills that will be useful for your post-secondary journey. It can exposure you to new ideas or ways of looking at things (which you face a lot of in any field of study!), helps you grow comfortable being on your own (another huge thing when moving away for post-secondary), and gives you the chance to work on your planning skills (you just planned a whole trip, after all! Use can use those planning skills to plan study schedules in school).

There are also a ton of different travel programs available specifically for students taking time off between high school and post-secondary, like Pacific Discovery or Projects Abroad.


Volunteering is a great way to spend your time as you plan your next steps! There are so many great programs locally and internationally to consider, depending on what you’re interested in.

Similarly to travel, there are organizations you can volunteer with, like Latitude Global Volunteering! This makes it easier to plan your volunteer experiences based on cost, location, and types of volunteer experience. It’s also a comfort knowing you would be travelling with a group for any international volunteering experiences.

With so many different non-profits out there that require volunteers, you can also look for volunteer opportunities in industries you feel you could be interested in studying during your educational journey. For example, if you think you may be interested in a career in teaching, look at volunteering with kids or in a school! You can build out your resume towards this goal or see if it’s an industry you would actually enjoy working in one day. Organizations get volunteers and you get invaluable experience. Win, win!

Check out Charity Village or Volunteer Canada to find volunteer positions near you.

Conclusion: What Comes Next?

Taking time off to recharge and plan before returning to post-secondary is a difficult choice in the moment, but it is a decision that can help you make more informed choices for what’s next for you!

When you take the time to make a plan and put it in action, you’ll be making the most of your time off, making a more informed decision about what you really want from post-secondary, and still learning about yourself and future job.

And remember – leaving your program is not a failure! It’s a new opportunity, and with the right planning, you’ll be able to learn just as much from this time off – if not more! – that you would in a classroom.


If you want help planning your gap year, reach out to the Canadian Gap Year Association!

You can book a FREE consultation with ushere, or download your owngap year planning tool kit to map out your year!

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