Will a gap year impact my chances for acceptance at a Canadian school?

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: March 12, 2024

Having a break in between studies is often a normal part of student life as individuals pursue work, travel, and other opportunities in between stints within a classroom.

Can these breaks impact an application to a Canadian school? The short answer is no, but applicants must take certain precautions to explain this break and ensure they give themselves the best chance of success.

It is important to note that Canadian Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs)—the only schools authorized to accept international students in Canada— tend to accept a certain length of study gap for different levels of study. For undergraduate programs, most DLIs accept a gap of up to two years, while for post-graduate programs, DLIs tend to allow a gap of five years. Some institutions in Canada can even allow longer gaps, provided that a good reason is given to explain the gap in studies.

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What are some examples of accepted reasons for a study gap?

According to IDP (an international student consulting firm), some commonly accepted reasons for gap years by Canadian DLIs include:

Gaining professional experience: Many students choose to pursue full-time, part-time, or internship work in their gap years. This can include gaining experience within their field of choice, pursuing a professional credential or certification, and even just pursuing a salary. This can be an acceptable reason, if students can provide proof, including pay slips, a formal letter of employment, and other relevant documentation proving their pursuit of professional experience;

Study gaps: Students may choose to take a study gap to prepare for various kinds of entry exams that are required to apply at a Canadian DLI, or for a study permit. These can include program-specific tests, English or French proficiency tests, and others. Supporting documentation here can include receipts of payment for the tests or preparatory courses, test results, and any other documentation that can help prove the reasons for a gap year was study related;

Medical and health-related reasons: Some students may experience unforeseen health complications requiring them to take time off. This is another commonly accepted reason and can be supported with documentation like a doctor’s note, any receipts for payment of treatments, medications, etc., and any other documentation providing proof of illness and/or treatment; and

Personal growth and development: Many students may take a gap in their studies to pursue personal growth. This could include acquiring new skills, gaining valuable life experience through travel or charitable endeavors, and undertaking personal and/or professional development courses. Supporting documentation here could include personal statements on how the gap year was spent, any relevant pictures or supporting media materials, receipts of payment for any related expenses, and any other documentation that could reasonably prove how this time was spent.

A note on what to do after receiving a letter of acceptance (LOA)

After new changes announced on January 22nd to the international student program, students have an additional step they must take to receive a Canadian study permit, after obtaining an LOA from a DLI. Namely as part of IRCC’s recently announced study permit cap in 2024—which will be managed by Canada’s provincial governments—students must now also receive a provincial letter of attestation (PAL).

These PALs will be administered from the province or territory where a student’s chosen DLI is located, and indicate to IRCC that an international student’s acceptance is legitimate and part of that province or territory’s allocation to the overall study permit cap. In addition to this a PAL must also include a study permit applicant’s:

  • Full name;
  • Date of birth; and
  • Address.

Applicants should note that no provinces or territories have announced a system to issue PALs to international students at the time of this writing. Canada’s provincial and territorial governments have until March 31st, 2024, to institute these systems.

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