Education Break Ke Baad


The concept of taking a ‘gap year’ – a year off studies between school and college – is gaining popularity in India. Aparna Sundaresan discovers what this is all about

Do you remember a time when you were confused about what to study or which career to choose? Are you still confused? The conventional path to clearing this confusion in India is to spend time taking aptitude tests, talking to education counselors and reading up on careers. While this all well and good, it lacks one crucial feature – practical experience. Much like the Indian educational system, the Indian system of choosing careers too is dictated by an academic approach.


A gap year, popular among students in the UK, Europe, and US, is a year off studies taken usually between high school and college. Before embarking on a three or four-year-long degree, students take a year to travel, intern, volunteer or do pretty much anything to gain some life experience and find their passion. When they finally begin college, they study with some perspective and real-world skills already under their belt.


Young people today understand that there is a fissure between classroom knowledge and the world. They are confused about what to do with their life too, but are bold enough to take time off to clear that confusion. “I realised I was trying for a lot of colleges simply because it would be something that I could eventually make money at instead of trying to figure out what really suited my abilities and temperament,” says Annapoorna Narayanan, an 18-year- old from Bangalore currently doing her gap year.
The belief that having a fulfilling career is far more important than a well-paying career is also gaining ground, which is driving the youth to find their ideal area of study and work.

The most common gap year activities are:

  • Learning or improving upon a skill through a course
  • Volunteering with a not-for-profit organisation or an NGO
  • Gaining work experience through internships
  • Traveling within or outside the country

Noella Cresence, a Bangalore-based freelance writer, took two years off to explore a variety of options. “Initially I was terribly confused about how I should spend my time,” she says. “Eventually I got a job in a call center and worked there for a few months, loving the financial freedom but hating the work as each day progressed. I finally quit and decided to travel. I visited Hampi, Hospet, Udupi, Manipal and a whole bunch of other places. The second-year was more focused; I interned with a PR firm.”

Ashwini Mohan, a master’s student of ecology and environmental science, interned at Kalinga Foundation in Karnataka during her gap year. “I was able to obtain ground knowledge on ecology, environment, the concept of conservation and education,” she says. “Although I started with a lot of passion and curiosity, I was not equipped with ground knowledge of the subject. This internship provided knowledge and life experiences which gave clarity to my thoughts and helped me fine-tune my research interests.”

One year is a lot of time. If you want to have new experiences, plan well ahead. And don’t let your parents plan for you.

  • Decide if you’re taking a gap year at least a year before you finish school.
  • Look at your finances. How much money you are willing to spend may affect what you do during your time off.
  • Choose what you want to do. This might be daunting, but narrow it down to these options: learning, working, travelling. You need not pick one; you can do all with careful planning.
  • Finally, the document you time off. “Write every day, take pictures, make sketches or even keep a video diary,” advises Annapoorna. “Documentation is of the utmost importance when you want to reflect on all the things you have been doing. It helps you understand who you were, what changed about you, why it changed, or if nothing changed how circumstances around you changed.”


If a gap year is so beneficial, why aren’t more parents encouraging their children to take it?
“Seeing the competition on one side and our child’s choice to pursue alternate careers instead of the most viable ones is unsettling. The pitfalls and unknowns are too many,” elaborates Rama Narayanan, Annapoorna’s mother. “Add these to the natural tendency of a parent to look out for the best for their ward and apprehension is natural.”

However, taking a leap of faith has paid off. Mrs.Narayanan says, “I notice a certain groundedness in Annapoorna and a certain acceptance of people and the ways of the world that is charming in a young girl. I myself was pretty naive at her age.”

Reflecting on parental opposition, Raïsa Mirza of Mahindra United World College in Pune says, “I think many parents in India don’t understand the concept of the gap year or how it is so important that their children take the time to understand their own selves before undertaking a program of studies. Many universities and colleges recognise that a well-planned gap year is the mark of a student that is capable of investing themselves upon their own personal development and  thus are sometimes more likely to admit them.”


Taking a year’s break from formal education is not a new concept in India; students have been taking a ‘drop’ year for many years now. However, a drop year is spent in the rigorous study to prepare for various entrance exams to secure a placement in an institute of one’s choice.


Young people who have braved a gap year share some lessons they learned

“I discovered how much I love traveling. I realised that following the crowd guarantees you will, more often than not, be unhappy.
Most importantly I realised how supportive my parents were. The gap year gave me the clarity I would have never otherwise had. I realised my potential, learned to love what I do and also when I eventually went to college I went back with focus and determination that was incomparable.” – Noella Cresence, freelance writer

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is how to recover from setbacks. When I embarked upon my journey, I had a plan. Though there wasn’t a very major departure from my plans, it was far from the ideal way that I had pictured it to be. The way things have turned out has taught me to ‘play it by ear’, as they say – to not get so stuck with my own plans that I miss the big opportunities when they come my way.” – Annapoorna Narayanan, currently on a gap year

“I learned that each small step towards your goal keeps you going. Even though education is believed to be the key to success, it is our knowledge and experience which keep us going. People always put pressure about one growing older and the value of one year in terms of money, but once you follow your dreams and attain success in your field of interest, it is the same people who come forward and appreciate. So, it is important to step out of the box and do things your way.” – Ashwini Mohan, a postgraduate student



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