What to do if your student wants a blank year

After learning about the nationwide disruption due to COVID-19, seniors may want to take a year off instead of continuing their education after high school.

Taking what is known as a ‘gap year’, students pause between completing high school and continuing their education into post-secondary education.

Michelle Dittmer, president and co-founder of the Canadian Gap Year Association, says the number of students who want to take a year off has grown exponentially.

“The numbers have skyrocketed,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “Before the pandemic, there was a stigma against a year of leave, the slowdown and the mental health impacts we see in our young people have really opened the door and opened up mind for people about alternative paths and what is needed for our young people.”

During the lockdown, the pandemic has created a lot of stress for young people, who may already be struggling with mental health, school assignments and personal issues. Although COVID-19 is a factor, many students are taking a year off because of post-secondary costs, says Dittmer.

“Their number one concern right now is finance,” 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 to them.”

A year off can also be filled with opportunities to invest in hobbies or activities they may have missed out on during the pandemic.

“They can achieve that level of education, but socially, they are lacking the full complement of skillsets that will allow them to succeed in college/university and in life,” she said.

Dittmer says it’s not uncommon for parents worried about a year of leave, not understanding the potential benefits of taking a year off.

“Parents are bringing their life experiences into their parenting style and it doesn’t have to be part of their journey,” she said.

Dittmer believes the gap year as an alternative to high school graduation can make some parents feel like they’re failing.

“Parents are not immune to pressure from their peers,” she said.

Dittmer explains that hearing about other young people going after high school or starting a career when your youth is taking a year off can bring a sense of judgment.

“Sometimes those pieces can really hold us back,” she said. “And we can get scared because we don’t know enough about the gap year roadmap.”

The biggest fear for parents is that their students will never progress beyond high school.

“I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, and even the stats show between 81% and 90% back after high school, so the stats are in your favor,” says Dittmer.

About 25 percent of families who come to the Canadian Gap Year Association want their students to take a year off, and sometimes parents believe their student may not be ready for the next step, says Dittmer.

Focusing on what youth can achieve or work towards in a year off are helpful ways to outline what a year off should look like.


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