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Scholarships Abroad For International Students

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Gap year: A disgrace or praise

Choosing a career to pursue can be confusing for students. When secondary school students are asked about their activities – what takes most of their time on weekends and what makes them feel good or happy? The answers were “I like to learn about different cultures” or “I enjoy making videos” or even, just the simple act of helping a friend through difficult times made one feel good.

However, when asked about what they want to study after high-school, their gestures clearly describe that they are not certain what they want to do.

“I’m gonna do engineering because I got to make money.”

“My parents want me to do something practical so I’m thinking of either medicine or law.”

They go from being excited, enthusiastic and optimistic to enlisting what they need to do if they want to be successful. Rather than seeing post-secondary as an opportunity to explore their interests and to build important skills, many young people see it as a means to a financial and social end. Education is now pursued with the sense of an obligation rather than a sense of purpose.

Given the reasons, should parents really be surprised to hear that students report feeling overwhelming anxiety and for others, depression? Should they be shocked to hear that students generally are disengaged and uninterested in their education?

Students are far more interested in getting good grades rather than learning anything of value. Sadly, this has become more of a rule. They’re not in the pursuit of knowledge, but in the pursuit of the status quo. They are striving for a piece of paper: The diploma, which in their state of mind is their golden ticket to a successful career and a happy life, and due to this ideology, they are suffering the consequences.

Some students, who are willing to stray from well-worn paths, are innovators. Their willingness to try something new enables them to build a sense of confidence and purpose that few of their peers enjoy. They are among the minority of students who made a deliberate decision to step off the academic treadmill for a purposeful gap year. During a gap year, students explore interests, values, and strengths. They came to better understand how they could use their unique talents to improve the lives of others around them.

Very few students choose a gap year. Why is it that not most of the students are opting for this opportunity? The answer is, everything they have seen, everything they have heard since the age of 4 has been pointing them to a linear path; from elementary school to high school to post-secondary education to a “successful” career. They are pushed along this path because it leads them to a path that has better economic and social outcomes in the long run. However, everyone knows the path to true success is anything but linear. 

We now know that students on this academic treadmill are suffering mental health consequences at an unprecedented level. The other problem is, no one seems to be actively encouraging young people to build their confidence, self-awareness, and adaptability outside of campus walls. Harvard University offers every admitted student the opportunity to take a purposeful gap year. They encourage students who take off a year to work, travel, and volunteer; build a sense of purpose and gain an understanding of why you want to study and then go back to university. Hence, they are more engaged in their studies, perform well academically and also have greater long-term outcomes in terms of career and life satisfaction.

It can be hard for young people to choose something different; to stray from the status quo and step off the academic treadmill, but, there are so many things in life that are hard, they can lead to incredible fulfillment. Parents should encourage children to take the step of taking a gap year so they can find a sense of purpose in those 12 months. A purposeful gap year is not a guaranteed one-year journey to complete but, this one year is the start of a lifelong journey of significance.