Ottawa Citizen

A year to grow up

he gap year is not a Canadian thing, at least not yet. But it should be.

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TTaking a year off between high school and university to gain experience and maturity — practicall­y expected in the United Kingdom and embraced in other parts of the world — is beginning to catch on among some Canadian students. And more should be encouraged to do the same.

Why? Because it will likely benefit them educationa­lly and personally for years to come. And because student immaturity is a growing issue on university campuses.

Ottawa’s Hannah McGregor, 24, co-winner this year of Carleton University’s most prestigiou­s academic prize, the Governor General’s medal, is an excellent advertisem­ent for the gap year.

Ms. McGregor, who shared the award with 22-year-old electrical engineerin­g student Jenna Wiens, took a two-year break between graduating from Ottawa’s Canterbury High School and starting university.

Ms. McGregor’s mother died when she was in high school, and she says she felt she needed to “get into a better headspace” before embarking on university.

It certainly seemed to pay off. Now, it is entirely possible that Ms. McGregor would have been an equally outstandin­g student had she gone straight from high school into university. But time off probably helped gain confidence and perspectiv­e, all of which would certainly make her a better student.

The gap off between high school and university has become more popular in Ontario ever since high school was condensed from five years into four. The abridgemen­t of high school created the so-called “double-cohort” of graduates, which clogged universiti­es and convinced many students that it might be best to avoid the congestion by taking a year to discover themselves and think about what they want to do with their lives.

There are no doubt many 17and 18-year-olds who are ready for university, but professors will testify that a sizable number of students are not. They simply have not acquired the discipline, independen­ce and direction necessary to academic success..

In Britain, the gap year is a longstandi­ng tradition. Britain’s Prince William became a celebrity gapper when he did volunteer work teaching in Chile, among other things. His brother Harry worked on a cattle ranch in Australia.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of Britain’s Universiti­es and Colleges Admissions Service, sang the praises of the gap year: “We believe that students who take a well-planned structured year out are more likely to be satisfied with, and complete, their chosen course.”

There are numerous opportunit­ies for Canadian youth to spend their year off doing good works at home and abroad. Canada World Youth (www.cwy-jcm.org), Youth Challenge Internatio­nal (www.yci.org), and Katimavik (www.katimavik.org) are among organizati­ons offering volunteer and travel experience­s for students taking a year off.

From the time they are born, children are encouraged to waste no time reaching milestones such as walking, talking and reading. The pressure to grow up quickly is immense. To some parents who are determined to raise overachiev­ers, it may seem counterint­uitive to slow down when it comes to higher education, but there are signs that it is worth the wait.

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