South Africa has one of the highest first-year university dropout rates in the world. Many reasons are contributing to this ranging from not being effectively prepared for life outside high school, being pushed to study something they are not interested in, not having the emotional maturity to cope with their studies and more. One of the answers to decreasing this dropout rate is to provide students with a bridging opportunity which is focused on student personal development and growth in the form of a gap year. Rudi Viljoen, Founder of the Warriors Academy Gap Year program, elaborates on this below.

The reasons for students dropping out of university in the first year

Several contributing factors are responsible for the almost 50% university dropout rate. Students often battle when moving from a very sheltered school environment to a more independent university environment. This is primarily due to students not having the necessary skills to overcome challenges and obstacles encountered in university and to problem-solve these.

Studying at university means more independence, bigger classes, less individual attention, and less structure, which is often difficult to adjust to for many students coming straight out of high school. Learning and studying at university requires discipline and the ability to apply theory to practice, which is often not taught effectively enough in schools. This leads students to feeling uncertain, unprepared and unable to achieve what is required of them. These feelings often result in low self-confidence, anxiety and a general sense of being lost, which is a big reason why many students drop out.  

Another contributing factor is the pressure to study something straight after school, which results in students hastily making a decision on a course rather than spending the time researching and uncovering their passions. You wouldn’t make a big life choice or career choice without doing the research and taking the time to weigh up the options, so why are we not providing students with the same opportunities? This is where a gap year is most beneficial.

Why a Gap Year is the answer?

A gap year is a time-out from academic studies or a career, taken by a student after school or studies. It is important to note that although this is time away from academic studies, it is not a time away from learning.

A well-structured gap year program is an opportunity for a young person to learn more about themselves, gain confidence, step out of their comfort zone and ultimately help them find their path, both personally and professionally. From our experience at the Warriors Academy, the real benefit of a structured gap year is the development of a student’s emotional maturity and their ability to adapt and deal with challenges.

A gap year should focus on helping students develop their mental and emotional strength to cope with their studies, future career and life in general. Students need to have the confidence to take responsibility and accountability for their actions and thoughts, and this is something that needs to be developed and built on.

With many gap year programs available on the market, what should parents be looking for?   

There are many benefits to taking a gap year, but these benefits are primarily a result of the programs chosen. There are thousands of gap year programs available in South Africa and abroad with many different outcomes. As a gap year service provider, we would suggest that parents look at the following checklist:

  • A structured program – look for a structured program that balances activities, travel, personal coaching and development. This kind of program will provide students with structure while slowly encouraging them to gain more independence. A structured program allows students to still have fun but be monitored and guided into making better decisions.
  • An accredited program – it is essential to look for a program that is accredited. This will give you peace of mind, knowing your child is on a program that has been assessed, approved and is being governed by a set of standards. For example, the Warriors Academy program is accredited by the International Gap Year Association.
  • Experiential learning focus – look for a program that focuses on experiential learning. We specifically use adventure activities to show students how to combine theory with the practical. The activities range from animal encounters, kloofing, mountain biking, water rafting, bungee jumping, courses on self-care, entrepreneurship, how to build your personal brand etc. Each activity challenges the students to overcome an obstacle, problem solve, work as a team, stand up as a leader etc. which are all the skills they will need in both their professional and personal lives.
  • Knowledge and experienced team – investigate the team that is running the program, who they are, what their qualifications are and their experience. This is the team that will be guiding your child over a full year so enquire about how long they have been around, what their skill set is etc. As a parent, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.

A gap year, when structured towards personal growth and development, can prove to be incredibly beneficial in equipping students with the skills needed to succeed in university and their careers. By taking the time to develop emotional maturity, problem-solving abilities, self-efficacy, independence and accountability, students will be able to better tackle their university studies and any challenges that come their way. This will not only reduce the dropout rate in universities but also give students the time necessary to find direction and study something they are passionate about and to succeed.

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