There are many reasons students might take a gap year — 12 months off between high school and university, or between years in university. There’s a difference, however, between simply taking a year off and using it wisely, says Sahri Woods Baum, a counsellor with the Centre for Student Development and Counselling at Ryerson University.

“I see a whole group of students that say, ‘I’m taking the year off in order to explore and find out more,’” she says. “But the reality is when you talk to them at the end of the year, they’re no clearer in terms of direction than they were when they walked into that gap year.”

Woods Baum’s colleague, Rosemarie Volpe, says it’s important students use that extra year to take stock of their options, utilizing what she calls “the three Ps of occupational and educational research:” Print and electronic resources; people who know about or are doing the kind of work they might be interested in; and personal involvement, a willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone and perform volunteer work, or take advantage of internship opportunities. There’s also the possibility of travel.

“We’re finding more and more students these days are looking at international work and internship experiences,” says Volpe.

Karen Moore is the sales development manager of Travel CUTS in Ottawa, which runs what it calls the Gap Year Abroad program. “Within the gap year we have four main types of programs that students can do,” she says. “You can work abroad, learn abroad, volunteer abroad, or just travel.”

The work abroad program includes SWAP working holidays, with 13 different countries giving Canadian youth and students the opportunity to live and work in another country. Volunteer Abroad is a Canadian company THAT offers two- to 12-week volunteer placements in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“Usually, we find that most students who do a gap year will do a work abroad placement because that gives them the opportunity to travel and afford it at the same time,” says Moore.

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