The right choice | To take a sabbatical year during your university studies or not? Experts explain
‘The Right Choice’ is a series by The Indian Express that tackles common questions, misconceptions and doubts surrounding undergraduate admissions. You can read the stories here.)
Typically, a student in India completes high school, takes admission for an undergraduate degree, goes for a postgraduate degree, and starts a job. Routine can be taxing and may not provide enough work experience. However, taking a gap year during undergraduate study at university has traditionally been uncommon in the country.
Anukriti S, a communications and media officer at an international non-governmental organization, chose to take a gap year (2016-2017) after her undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Delhi. “I did my own readings, I formed a perspective of the world, I acquired philosophies that I stay true to. It was good for my personal development,” she says.
But why is the practice rare? How can a gap year be used to build skills? Is it advised? A crisis:
Work experience, extra clarity
Dheeraj Sanghi, Vice Chancellor of JK Lakshmipat University, said, “I think it’s a great idea. People don’t do it because they don’t see their models doing it.
Adding that he “encouraged” the practice at his university, Sanghi said the response was quick. “I get asked ‘if it’s such a good idea, why isn’t anyone else doing it?’ I always tell people no one else does it because everyone asks the same question. No new thing will ever start that way.”
What can be done during the sabbatical year? Sanghi points to “the new skills and experiences, in addition to theoretical knowledge…if they (the students) take a gap year after the second year and work for a year, the students would choose their electives in the third and fourth year in a way more appropriate”.
Mr. Jagadesh Kumar, the chairman of the United Grants Commission (UGC), has a different view on the subject. Noting that internships are part of the curriculum as part of the national education policy (2020), he specifies: “The internship is compulsory during their degree course. It will provide students with the opportunity to learn through experience. Students will also have the opportunity to take skills-based courses. Therefore, it is not necessary to take a break just to gain hands-on experience.
Additionally, Kumar pointed out that the multiple-exit curriculum of the Four-Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) will make it easier for students to choose their course duration. “The multiple-input-multiple-output (MEME) concept has several advantages. If a student wants to leave the degree program after the first year, they can do so and they will get a certificate. If the student leaves after the second year, the student will graduate. In addition, a student can leave a degree course at the end of the first or second year (in a three-year course) or third year (in the FYUP) to join another establishment, provided that there are vacancies and the eligibility requirements of the new institution are met.
However, Sanghi believes that “a lot of students don’t take their internships seriously. Companies don’t either. Students think it’s just an internship and they’re there to get certification, while companies don’t train interns properly”
Best Use of the Gap Year
R Sugant, Dean of the School of Management and School of Economics and Business at CMR University, Bengaluru, thinks the decision depends on what is planned for the gap year.
“For those who can afford it, my suggestion would be not to take a year off. If you work during the break, it’s different. But if you take a break to prepare for competitive exams, you have to be able to get into the top 20 institutions,” adding, “Given the socio-economic challenges faced by the majority of the student population, the large question is whether they will return to school.
A spokesperson for IIT Madras echoes a similar view and says that taking “a gap year within a degree or between degrees can be very useful if the student uses the opportunity to explore and discover professional interests”, adding that “it is important to see how the year is going to be used and what avenues are going to be explored. It is important to experience the possible professional situations.
Impact on the hiring process
A common belief is that taking a gap year can hurt a person’s profile when applying for a job.
Sanghi believes that candidates who have gained work experience – something a gap year can be used for – will be preferred by companies. “People who are hiring are ready for this change…the candidate who has experience will be much more ready to work in an industry compared to someone who comes out of college after four years.”
Anukriti agrees, citing her own example: “No company has ever questioned my gap year. All they care about is my background, my skills, and the fact that I actually graduated, even if it was in four years. She is also currently pursuing a postgraduate course in sociology at the Indira Gandhi National Open University alongside her full-time job.