The Value of a Fifth Year


 As the end of the calendar year grows ever closer, one burden becomes heavy upon the shoulders of senior students: university applications. The anxiety of not knowing which doors will be open in the future and the confusion of understanding all of OUAC’s ins and outs adds an intense stress to already worrisome students. But luckily, in Ontario, there exists the option of the fifth year of high school.

Formally mandatory, the fifth year stands as a time for students to explore and open their options more, to learn of themselves as individuals and to build a responsibility that’ll serve them greatly in the future. Though, if you were to ask some individuals what a fifth year was, they’d call it a ‘victory lap’, a time to do little and to care even less while wasting away inside a high school when they should be off in the workplace or higher education. The quasi-gap year may not seem as productive as leaving immediately, but in truth, it may become an essential experience for an unsure individual.

The outline of the year is pretty simple, students take a minimum of two courses and can add as they feel necessary, as long as they don’t hit the credit cap, with both semesters being optional depending on their situation and needs. This leads to a lot of great options for students taking a non-traditional pathway.

Nathan during our Interview

For example, current fifth-year Nathan Pacey is only taking one of his two optional semesters as he has a job lined up for the other half of the year, giving financial flexibility once he has accepted his offers. He reiterated the positives of the time he’s taking, stating that, “this is my most productive year of high school so far. A huge part of this time is to learn how to study, how to balance extracurriculars and work and figuring out your ambitions. It’s hard to know what you want at 17, so feeling more adult lends itself to your decision and future opportunities.” Nathan personally had no worries of getting accepted to his universities of choice, though he still found the time off to be beneficial for his growth as a student.


As many students know, the maturity difference year in and year out through high school is drastic, in four years students have gone from children to young adult, maturing in ways unimagined beforehand. If that logic is to apply, would it not make sense that the gap between 17 to 18 would be just as significant? No one wants to live the rest of their life stuck with a random ambition from their teens, but the possibility of having that ambition one year closer to their plateau of maturity is immensely profound for any student.

Yet for some, the fifth year can also be a time to open new doors. With OUAC using your top six marks, the chance to come back for another shot at a few classes that just didn’t work out can always be beneficial. Some classes are even known to be gracious in their marking, which can be handy for those who’s average needs that quick boost. One senior student, Emma Frey, shared her experiences so far as a returning student, saying that, “I’m not sure what I want to do with my life yet. Fifth-year is helping me to improve the marks that I want to improve and is allowing me to decide better what I actually want to do with my life.” Though, Emma admits the flaws within the fifth year, reiterating, “I don’t go to my classes as much as I should be going to them.” This is a common issue with fifth year students as they’re able to sign themselves out of classes mostly scot-free, there remains no incentive in boring or easy classes to show up daily, and with most only taking two classes, there’s no desire to show up on time after a late morning or to stay the whole day anticipating an early weekend. Emma even warned students not to take the fifth year, as it isn’t as enjoyable as it seems when most of your friends are living it up in university and you’re stuck in high school.


Fifth Year Student Sarah Miller Writing during a spare period

Though, these concerns and very real situations do not devalue the fifth year as a whole. It is still a time for students to find themselves and to understand their pathways, even if those realizations come from a time of hardship and occasional boredom. There’s no doubt that a fifth year, especially in those waining winter months, can be a long and brutal ordeal, but that’s not to say it can’t be made fun and enjoyable by taking advantage of the resources available.


On top of educational improvement, students can take the time to improve all around in their extracurricular activities, whether that be sport, debate or anything in between. A full year to enjoy hobbies outside of school and to become involved within the community in a way impossible before due to prior commitments to intense to ignore. One Viking taking full advantage of this opportunities is Joey Friedel, a senior volleyball player who’s been able to find the balance of fun and figuring out his pathways. Joey positively expressed that, “fifth-year has provided an excellent environment to succeed and to enjoy sports while not having other stresses take over your real free and extracurricular time.” While there is a fair argument that the fifth year can be filled with boredom at its bare bones, it’s really what you make of it, and when taking advantage of the opportunities and resources around, it can become a time that flies by faster than ever expected.

So, when the question arises of what value exists in the fifth year, remember that it is not a black and white situation. The fifth-year exists as an option and is one that is up to the student to make worthwhile. 

No matter what your interest is in and out of school, the year stands as a time to learn more of yourself and to learn how to manage important skills that’ll undeniably be useful in one of the most important times in our young adult lives. University and College are both some of the most expensive and difficult decisions that exist in a lifetime, the least one could do before undertaking either is to invest in themselves and to stand confidently in the pathway they’ve chosen.