British Columbia

Economic, career benefits of taking a gap year touted

One study found that those who put off post-secondary earned more shortly in the first few years after graduation compared to those who went straight from high school.

Taking a gap year can give young adults a chance to figure out what work they enjoy and what they don't

Some high school graduates take a year off before going to postsecondary to travel, or work and gain experience, and proponents of the 'gap year' say there are many benefits to doing so. (Getty Images)

While doing a gap year — taking a year off between high school and further studies — is a rite of passage for young people in parts of Europe and Australia, the practice isn't as widespread in Canada.

But those who've seen the effect it has on young adults say there are numerous benefits — and may even give them a higher wage once they do eventually graduate from post-secondary.

One major benefit of the gap year is to help high school grads figure out what they want to study and what career path they want to pursue, said Michelle Dittmer of My Gap Year, an organization that helps students plan a successful gap year.

"Whether it's somebody looking to get into medicine and able to take a part-time job as a receptionist at a doctor's office [it's the chance to] really get a sense of what the field is really like, before committing years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars towards what they're doing," Dittmer told host Chris Walker on B.C. Almanac.

"That time to work is both financially a benefit to them so that they have some sort of solid financial ground, but also that experience that they build for their resume is very helpful."

'Best investment I ever made'

Dittmer said others may want the time to recharge, take up a new hobby or explore the world — which also provides them with various skills.

"We see a lot of this helicopter-parent mentality, and for these young people to gain the experience and the independence of being able to travel … they get to really develop the confidence of being on their own, and develop that sense of independence that's going to allow them to be successful in anything that they decide to take on."

Boston Bar resident Attila Van Hegyi, who took a few months before and after taking university courses to travel through South America, said it was the "best investment I ever made in my life."

"The experience that you gain travelling and visiting other cultures, and trying new foods and hearing other languages, just stimulates your brain in a way that sitting in a classroom never can."

While proponents of the gap year say there are many soft skills to be gained, research suggests there may be a possible financial gain as well.

Research shows financial advantage of gap year

Ana Ferrer, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo, compared post-secondary graduates who had taken time off before they studied to graduates who went straight from high school.

"What we found is that students who take that year off, or sometimes a little bit more, typically make five per cent more in earnings during the first few years of their graduation — up to five years after graduation."

Ferrer said the researchers weren't entirely sure why that was, but said it "seems to be something intrinsic to taking a year off."

"A lot of students are really too young to make these post-secondary decisions right out of high school, and for the vast majority of them it is a good thing to take the year to think about what they want," she said.

"Most of them are working, and when you work you realize what type of job you don't want, and that is a big encouragement when you go to school."

Dittmer said that she's seen that those who take a gap year come back and enter post-secondary a lot more focused and mature, which she said should quell any parents and caregivers' fear that after working for a year or traveling their child will just shrug off further studies completely.

"Through our experience [at My Gap Year] everyone has returned back to post-secondary education, and its been really interesting to watch, because they're coming back as an active choice, instead of hopping on this conveyer belt of education.

"They've had a year to think about it, and now they're making an active choice to go back and they're choosing a program that is better suited to their interest."

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled:  Taking a gap year after high school has many benefits, proponents say