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Managing a Forced Gap Year

- Raj Naran

Advice to help matriculants who did not get admission to further their studies.

Helping young adults to deal with disappointment

We’re all familiar with the idea of a Gap Year. Sometimes though, a gap year is not something we planned for or that we necessarily want. This often happens when the grade 12 results did not turn out to be what we expected or if our applications for certain study programmes were not successful and you did not apply to other study institutions. As disappointing as this can be, individuals who find themselves in such a situation are in essence facing a Forced Gap Year!  If you are in a situation like this, there is no need to despair. As in all areas of our lives, everything is not going to go as planned or as we expect. In other words, we need to problem solve and to explore ways in which the Forced Gap Year can be put to good use. Below are some thoughts:

Setting new goals

If the goals that you set were not realistic, it is necessary to look at these goals again to see if they should be changed.  Some examples could be that you applied for a programme that has a very high mathematics requirement, and that this is not necessarily your strength.  You may have focussed all your energy into a study programme that has a competitive selection process or requires an extremely high Academic Points Score.  In some cases, you may need to rethink the kind of programme you are targeting. For example, a Diploma at a University of Technology, may be a more suitable option than a degree. Should you feel confused, talking to a career counsellor can help.

In some instances, a student may just have applied to one university – e.g. Wits.  If you are unsure of admission to Wits, or any other institution, always apply to at least one or two other institutions as backup.

Spending the year upgrading the grade 12 marks

For some students, the failure to gain admission may simply be that they failed to meet the required APS score, falling just a few points short. For these students, it would make sense to rewrite some of the grade 12 exams to improve the APS score. Do note, however, that improving your APS score will not guarantee you a place in the programme of your choice. Always apply to more than one institution if you have any doubt as to whether your application will be successful. To find out how you can upgrade your grade 12 results, visit the Department of Education District Office in your area.


Employment is not the easiest thing to acquire in a difficult economy such as South Africa, especially as a new school leaver without any tertiary education. Nevertheless, the economy does not only survive on university graduates and people must keep trying in order to win in the job market. Learn the basics of the job search process and develop a strong Curriculum Vitae, Cover Letter and interview technique. These are necessary skills and will serve you well as you progress in your career.

While earning an income from your employment will be great, do not make your job search only about money. Voluntary and part-time work opportunities can also give you skills and experience, and importantly, the opportunity to develop a good relationship with people that can act as referees in your future job applications.

Skills Development

Whatever happens in the Forced Gap Year, this must be used as an opportunity to develop skills. There is a range of online courses and tutorials that are freely available and that must be used to develop skills in the gap year. These courses could be in the areas of:

  • Computer and Information Technology skills. Become familiar with basic programming or coding languages and terms. Even if you do not intend becoming an IT specialist, having some understanding of coding languages and computer systems will serve you well in your career.
  • Computer applications that can make you more marketable. Such applications could be the suite of programs in MS Office such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  These are very useful applications and will serve you well in both your studies and in the world of work as you progress through your career.
  • Developing and enhancing your language and writing skills. The ability to communicate well with others will enhance your marketability and also play a big role in how you progress in the workplace.
  • Desktop design. So much of the information that we consume or disseminate, is done electronically. Enhancing your skills to generate good looking documents and images will not go waste. If you are unable to afford a costly design suite such as Adobe, you can find several free applications that will give you the opportunity to practice and learn.

Some of these courses and tutorials can be found on YouTube by searching for relevant terms. Others are available through platforms that specialise in online learning. Some examples are listed below:

Read more suggestions from Luci Carosin, ICT General Manager for Application Delivery and Support Services, on how to gain valuable ICT skills for free online.

There are many such platform offering free short courses to help you develop your skills profile during the gap year. Do a simple online search for “Free online courses” or similar phrases and you should be able to access many more platforms than the ones that have been listed here.

In conclusion, I urge all those young people who were not prepared to take the gap year, to look ahead and plan for 2025. Your plans may change, but if they are realistic, you will be able to put in place stepping stones for career success. Consult a career counsellor where this is possible to help you broaden your perspective and explore opportunities that you may not have thought of.

*Children of Wits staff can get career guidance and counselling on how to manage various areas of their lives through the programme KaeloLifestyle. Kaelo provides a range of services to staff and their immediate family members. Services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout the year including public holidays and weekends. Help is available in all South African languages to Wits employees and their immediate family members.

Raj Naran is a Career Development Educator at the Counselling & Careers Development Unit, Wits University.