British Columbia

Higher grades, lower dropout rates among benefits of taking 'gap' year, says youth development group

"We don't give kids much time to think about who they are and where they're going to go," says former university instructor and regional director of Lattitude Global Volunteering.

'We don't give kids much time to think about who they are and where they're going to go'

The organization Lattitude Global Volunteering is advocating for youth to take a year away from schooling to build confidence and discover their own path, both personally and academically. (Lattitude Global Volunteering - Canada/Facebook)

Higher GPAs, lower dropout rates, and quicker completion rates once students get to university are some of the benefits that advocates of gap years are advertising to youth who are thinking to the future.

Whether it's spent volunteering, working or thinking hard about what's next, gap years between high school and college are becoming increasingly popular.

High-level American universities like Harvard and Princeton are recommending the academic breather and going as far as offering deferrals for students because of the positive results.

On average, a student in the U.S. who enrols in university directly after high school takes 6.5 years to finish a bachelor's degree, while those who take a year off finish the same degree in about 5.5 years, including the gap year, according to Cam Sylvester, the North American regional director of Lattitude Global Volunteering.

The non-profit organization, which has been offering volunteer opportunities since the 1970s, has found that students who choose to take a year away from schooling gain a better sense of confidence and self-awareness, and ultimately are more successful in completing their degree of choice if they do decide to return to school.

The time off can allow students the opportunity to figure out a bit more about themselves and make decisions about their academic and career aspirations, Sylvester said.

"We don't give kids much time to think about who they are and where they're going to go. They've been told by most of their counsellors they've got to go right into university, their parents are telling them that," Sylvester told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.

Lattitude Global Volunteering launched their first Gap Year Decision Day Friday to mark what they say is an uptick in the number of students deciding to take the year off. The campaign encourages youth to share their decision with a post on social media.

When Sylvester taught at Capilano University, he said a lot of students would get to about the halfway point of their degree and realize they weren't in the right field. He's now seeing more students take a gap year in the middle of their university or college studies, rather than straight out of high school.

"We thought we should start talking about the fact that this is a legitimate option, and celebrate that with the students," he said.

He thinks the personal development that occurs in a gap year is the most significant benefit for youth considering the option.

"The outcome would be that you're more confident in your skin, you have a sense of where you want to go, you have a sense of humility about your abilities and also a sense of strength in your own capacity. If you can do that, I think that would be a great gap year."

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

With files from The Early Edition