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Break broadens outlook

Author: Neena Bhandari
Date: 05/05/2014
Words: 673
Source: SMH
        Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Supplement
Page: 7
A gap year can refresh students and encourage them to achieve academically. By Neena Bhandari.

Annabelle Thorp had always wanted to explore the world independently after finishing school. Having spent her formative years at the same school, in the same area and with the same people, she decided to take a gap year and defer her enrolment in a Bachelor of Arts double major in German and philosophy at the University of Sydney.

About 25 per cent of her year-12 group at Kambala girls' school decided to take a year off. More young people are taking a gap year than a decade ago, but it is no longer just for fun. Students are using that time to work, travel, volunteer or refine their study and career goals.

Annabelle worked and then travelled through 29 countries in Asia and Europe.

"It has been an extremely liberating experience, which has broadened my perspective on life and university education," she says. "I now have a deeper understanding of different cultures and lifestyles, which has made me open to diverse viewpoints. High school can be very limiting and you forget there is life beyond getting the grades for admission in a university."

Being in countries where education is often a luxury, she realised how privileged she is to have gained a place at university.

"It has made going to university exciting, rather than daunting. I am also more confident dealing with challenging situations and communicating with people."

After months on the road, getting back into the study groove was probably the hardest part.

"Even though my work habits were a little rusty and my concentration was less intense, the refreshed perspective made up for it," she says.

In her view, everyone should consider taking a gap year.

Kieran Taylor, on the other hand was focused on joining university straight after high school.

"After giving it considerable thought, I decided that it wasn't the best time for me and I would rather continue with the momentum of studying," he says.

He was also unsure about his career options and felt that university would expose him to more potential professional opportunities than overseas travel.

Once he completed his bachelor's degree in architecture studies at the University of NSW last year, though, he expressed greater interest in taking time out.

"I feel that I deserve a year off now. Over the past three years, I have worked really hard and in the process learnt a lot about myself and about architecture."

At 21, Keiran says he can "afford the time off to explore the many possible avenues I can take within the building industry or outside".

"Having already completed an undergraduate degree, I have taken a step towards my future career."

When it comes to the type of students who take gap years, a 2010 study conducted by Professor Andrew Martin and colleagues of the University of Sydney found that high-school leavers who were uncertain about their future direction or less academically inclined were the most likely to opt for time out.

However, the academics' research showed that once these students returned to study, they were more motivated and better suited to the demands of university.

While previous studies of the gap year phenomenon have concentrated on gender and socioeconomic factors, this study was the first to look at psychological determinants such as culture and family background.

"Ethnicity has a significant influence, too, on whether one takes a gap year.

"Students from English-speaking backgrounds, who have never left Australia, may be more inclined to take a gap year than those from non-English speaking communities, who have already lived in or visited other countries before arriving here, and whose parents may have moved to Australia for educational opportunities and an expectation their child will go immediately to university," he says.

For parents and students wrestling with the dilemma of entering university directly versus deferred enrolment, the study's results are positive overall, finding that "when used constructively", a gap year can help put students on a path to sustained academic achievement.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without the permission of the writer and the publication.  

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