Let’s Get Real: Exploring a Gap Year


Exploring a Gap Year


Hey guys!

Martin is considering taking a gap year with his friend Edward. I’m not so sure about his decision.

A gap year means a lot of different things to a lot of different students. You might be sitting there thinking: “I would love to take off for a year and do nothing.” or “I can travel across South Africa for a year and enrich my life.”

No matter how you envision the ‘perfect’ gap year. It doesn’t always go as anticipated. Before getting your heart set on taking a gap year, you should know that it doesn’t always go as planned or expected (sorry to spoil it for you).

Gap Year Expectation vs. Reality

Here is a short list of expectations some of my friends had for their gap year and what they discovered instead:

Having a lot of fun doing whatever you want all day every day.
Becoming desperate to get a job because you are painfully bored every single day and don’t have money to go out.
Travel the world or South Africa.
Have no money for travelling and your parents refuse to lend you any.
Get an amazing job right away.
Spend months looking for a job only for each one to have at least one thing about it that doesn't work out and not actually landing a good job until late October.
Enjoy every single moment of volunteering.
End up hating every single moment of volunteering and end up quitting few weeks in.
Coming to a realisation of what it is you want to do with your life.
Still not having any idea what you want to do with your life.

Now that you know what can go wrong with a gap year, let’s take a look at what can go right. Take a look at these gap year options that you can choose and modify to meet your desires. 

Exploring a Gap Year: Your Options

Option 1: Get a Job

There are two important things a job after Matric can help you with: One, it can help you build out your CV, which will help greatly when applying for job during and after college or university. Two, you can earn and save money for your future studies and social life.

It’s no secret that furthering your studies can be expensive. The cost of education increases every year. By saving up money for your studies, you will be able to cover most or all of your course fees and study material. 

Working during your gap year can also help you figure out what your true passions and interests are. For example, if you are thinking about pursuing a career in childcare, a job at a day care centre may be a great idea: The experience you will gain can help you later on in your career. If you discover that you do not like your job at all, you can focus your attention on other career opportunities.

Option 2: Do Some Travelling, Explore South Africa or Abroad

Travelling, especially overseas, can be a life changing experience. One of my friends travelled to Europe in her gap year and she has not returned to South Africa. It was that great for her!

Travelling changes the way you look at things and also teaches you to figure out things for yourself. When you’re out there on your own, you have no choice but to solve your own problems. You will also meet new people on your journey and even make new friends.

This said; you have to keep in mind that travelling can be unbelievably costly. Especially when you travel to another country. You have to pay for a passport, tickets and accommodation and food. If you do have the money to travel, go for it. Just make sure you have enough money to get back home again. You wouldn’t want to get stranded somewhere.

If you do not have enough money to travel, look at other options. Did you know that there are volunteer programmes that involve travelling to other countries? Some large corporations sponsor students’ travelling costs in exchange for work/volunteering. Theme parks abroad offer these types of deals. Just keep in mind that you will actually be working when choosing this option. You will have little time for sightseeing and exploring the country.    

Option 3: Volunteer 

Volunteering during your gap year can be in many ways. Right after I left school, I volunteered at a feeding programme over the weekends. We went out in our community and we handed out food amongst the people who are in need. It was a great experience and I enjoyed every minute of it.

If you are considering volunteering, take a look around your neighbourhood. There should be many volunteering opportunities. Choose a cause that you care about. You can help take care of vulnerable children or help out at your local animal shelter. 

Whichever volunteering programme you choose; you will gain great work experience. You will also feel more involved in your community. Volunteering experiences also look great on CV’s. Furthermore, helping a cause you care for can have a huge impact on your life.

Here are a few volunteering ideas:

  • Animal welfares
  • Hospices
  • Community feeding programmes for needful children and adults
  • Orphanages
  • Senior home care centre
  • Community churches
  • Local schools
  • Care centres
  • Tutoring centres
  • Youth centres

The volunteering opportunities in your community will differ from those in other communities. Talk to people in your neighbourhood and find out where help is needed. Sometimes going where the need is greatest, is a life-changing experience.

You will not get paid for volunteering, but the experience and knowledge you will gain and the relationships you will develop will have a huge impact on your life and future. Who knows, you might enjoy your volunteering job so much that you decide to pursue a career in that specific field. What’s more, your time spent, help offered and the conversations you have with the people or animals you might engage with, will change their lives forever.

Take the Time to Think About What You Want in Life

A gap year will give you more than enough time to think about what you want to achieve through your studies and career. The experiences you will encounter through working, travelling, or volunteering, may help you discover what it is that you really want in life. By knowing exactly what you are going to study and why you are going to study it, will make your further study experience a smooth one.

Remember, I’m not telling you that a gap year is bad. I just want you to carefully think about it before you regret it few months down the line. Do not let your unrealistic expectations ruin your gap year. Instead, learn from whatever comes your way and take it from there.  


Here’s to right decisions!

Desi Signature12the Distance Learning Diva


Disclaimer:  Martin and Desi are fictional characters created by College SA for educational purposes.