Is a gap year the answer to decreasing SA's high university dropout rate?

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With many gap year programs available on the market, what should parents be looking for?  (Image supplied by the Warriors Adventure Academy)
With many gap year programs available on the market, what should parents be looking for? (Image supplied by the Warriors Adventure Academy)

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.

More independence, bigger classes, less individual attention

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.

Read: LOCAL HERO | This man changes school-leavers’ lives

Studying at university requires discipline

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 feel 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.

Hastily making a decision

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?

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, 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.

Also read: "What's one thing you wish you knew before starting university?" – Students respond

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.

The structure will allow students to still have fun while 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.

  • Experiential learning focus 

Look for a program that focuses on experiential learning. Adventure activities are one example of this kind of learning which shows students how to combine theory with the practical. The activities range from animal encounters, kloofing, mountain biking, water rafting, and bungee jumping.

Courses on self-care, entrepreneurship and how to build your brand are also offer experiential learning. 

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(Image: Supplied/Warriors Adventure Academy)

Each activity challenges the students to overcome an obstacle, solve problem, 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.

  • A knowledgeable 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 and their skills. As a parent, don't be afraid to ask the tough questions.

Submitted to Parent24 by Warriors Adventure Academy

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