Bridging the gap: Taking a gap year
With many projects and organisations offering tailor-made gap years, it comes as no surprise more than a third of students decide to take a year out before university to hone soft skills. What is now becoming increasingly more common is for graduates to look towards taking a career gap between university and graduate schemes, in order to boost their CV. Reasons for taking some time out vary: an urge to travel, work on voluntary projects, get a taste of working life... Yet, despite this increase, with tuition fees starting at £9,000 per annum, many A Level students are thinking twice about delaying their degree. Critics (including David Mitchell) have shunned the gap year as a waste of time, even going so far as to say: “the less they know of the unreal world across the glittering sea, the less cheated they'll feel.”
Taking time out of your studies or your career is always a risk, if you don’t plan and prepare appropriately. However, there are many advantages to taking a gap year. Recruiters look favourably on applicants who have asserted their tastes on their year out: volunteering, working, teaching or just travelling can be a real conversation starter and, depending on how you go about organising your gap year, you can also show a certain level of independent thinking. As such, notwithstanding the harsh words of some cynics, you should think about taking a gap year, especially if you are unsure of what you want to get into or where you’d like to study.
1. Choose what you want to do early on
The first step of organising your gap year will require you to decide on what you’d like to do, thinking about what you’d like to achieve during this time gap. Speak to careers advisers at school or university, friends and family to air out your ideas and get some more. Typically, there are 4 strands to a gap year:
- Travel: you can go speak to a flight agency, such as STA about travelling the globe or a particular continent. They can also help you set up activities on your route, so you could just as easily be chilling out in the Full Moon parties in Thailand as helping out working in Australia, or even learning some Spanish in South America.
- Work experience: find a job overseas or back at home to put your gap year to professional use. The advantage of finding work abroad means that you can simultaneously improve your working skills as well as learn or perfect a language. Internships or casual bar work tend to be the most popular routes for gap year activities, yet you can also find more challenging work.
- Teaching abroad: teaching abroad is also a popular way for students and graduates to get teaching experience in another country. Some work requires a CELTA or TEFL qualification, though there are plenty of outfits that offer placements (paid and unpaid) to choose from. Check the British Council Language Assistants page for more details.
- Volunteering: sites such as WWOOF or GoAbroad.com have brilliant suggestions, though some volunteering organisations can charge pretty hefty fees. The Dodwell Trust, based in Madagascar, offers teaching work in primary schools, too. Work out what sort of field you would like to volunteer in (NGOs, conservation work, teaching, construction...) and don’t keep your mind set on a particular country as you never know where your skills/ideal work may take you...
Bear in mind you can also choose to do a variety of things on your gap year - should you wish to mix it up, by sharing working with travelling etc, some organisations let you do so. Read more about what to do when plans fall through here.
2. Going it alone or with an organisation
Another aspect of the gap year is deciding whether you would like to organise yours from start to finish, would like to with a group and be left to your own devices out there, or would like to build up rapport with an organisation back home all the way throughout your work abroad. With organisations, you may find that some are cheaper than others, though you should check carefully what you are fundraising for: some offer accommodation and food as part of the package, making the initial price a lot more worthwhile than other quotes. You should make sure that your gap year organisation is recognised by the Year Out Group to make sure it is legitimate. If you decide to go solo, you can find communities on places like Couchsurfing and the Lonely Planet Forum to find like-minded people and advice.
3. Raising money for your gap year
You can raise money by fundraising, working for a few months or working out there. Speak to friends and make sure you check the grants for individuals website.
4. Benefits of taking a gap year
- If you’re staying within the UK, you can get a foot in the door in terms of work, gaining valuable contacts and finding out whether you’d like to work in your chosen industry. You can also learn more about the British work structure and don’t miss being ‘out of the loop’.
- If you choose to go abroad, you can try out many different fields of work, and also see what the culture is like should you choose to work abroad. You can also gain valuable linguistic skills, making you stand out from the crowd.
- You will gain maturity and independence, as well as communication skills and show initiative, all well-respected from future employers.
To conclude, make sure you plan and prepare effectively, listen to advice and speak to others who have been through it all. You can make this year really stand out, whether you’re looking to boost your CV, pack in some travelling or give something back!