The Alternative Guide to the Gap Year

Whether it’s working a ski season in the French Alps, volunteering to teach English in Africa, or snorkelling around the Caribbean for coral reef research, the opportunities for students who want to take a gap year before starting university are endless.

According to the Guardian, as many as 230,000 young people between the ages of 18-25 decide to take a gap year annually, with 10% of those organising their trip using a member organisation of Year Out Group (YOG).

Indeed, in recent years, taking a gap year before starting university has become increasingly popular, a fact which is unsurprising given the recent rise in tuition fees. In other words, it makes sense to ensure that the course you’re studying is the right one, and not just to go to university straight from school for the sake of it.

So if you are wanting to take a gap year: you’re certainly not alone, and there are loads of potential benefits for doing this. For a start, you will have more time to really think about your future university career, boost your career prospects by completing useful volunteering and work experience, and will not end up at university just because it’s what’s expected of you, but because you truly want to be there.

On the other side of the argument, taking time out from academia could make you lose some of your momentum for academic study, making you less productive when you arrive at your first lecture in September.

Ultimately, whether taking a gap year is the right decision is completely dependent on the individual. In this guide, I give you my honest, alternative take on the gap year, to help you make the most of this precious time out if you decide to take it and to ensure it’s the best it possibly can be.

Is a gap year right for me?

If you’re wondering whether you should take a gap year, ask yourself these questions: do you think you would benefit from some time out to boost your CV through volunteering and work experience? Do you think it would provide a good opportunity to travel? Are you not sure about what/whether you want to study at university? And, finally, would a year out help you focus on finding what kind of direction you would like your life to take after school?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it is worth considering that a gap year might be right for you, so read on!

Should I work, travel or volunteer during my gap year?

Well, it’s completely up to you, of course, but, in order to not completely run out of money when financing your exciting trips around Southeast Asia, I would heartily recommend that you work as well as travel and volunteer. This will definitely keep your feet on the ground and give your CV a healthy boost for when you graduate.

Employers can be concerned that graduates do not have enough practical work experience, and showing that you have done this during your gap year – as a choice – could definitely set you apart. Many people take on retail or bar work during their gap years, which is definitely a reasonable option, but you can also take this opportunity to complete work experience/volunteering in sectors which you find particularly interesting.

A gap year is your time, so spend it how you want, but I guarantee that you will have a much better year if you are proactive, productive and make sure that you keep busy. Sitting at home watching Netflix is probably not the best idea (and you may well find time for some Netflix at university anyway…)

On that note, take advantage of your free time to contact employers and ask if they have any work experience opportunities available. Summer especially can be a quieter time for some companies (with their full-time employers taking holiday leave), so it’s worth being proactive and taking advantage of this to get some solid experience under your belt before term starts.


Can I face living with my parents for another year if I take a gap year?

This is definitely a factor worth considering. If you staying at home for your gap year, it’s worth explaining to your parents why you’re doing this, and what your plans are for the year ahead so that they feel happy with why you’ve made this decision and don’t worry about you.

Of course, they love you and will enjoy your company, but you’ll have a much happier time if they know that you’ve got it sorted. Oh and, yes, it is still acceptable to enjoy their home-cooked meals and freshly-washed laundry before the slightly more erratic university lifestyle begins!

What else could I do on my gap year?

Projects, projects, projects are the key! If you’ve considered starting your own blog, business, or taking on some volunteering, you now have the golden opportunity to have a crack at it!

You’ve got plenty of time to make mistakes this year, so it’s worth diving into something exciting (and maybe a bit risky) while you have this luxury. Plus, it will set you in good stead for thinking about what university societies you might be interested in joining when you get there.

Finally, if I don’t take a gap year, have I missed out on my opportunity for travel and exploring the world?

Although it is true that the time between school and university is a fantastic, extended period where you can get a lot of travelling done, it is certainly not the only time when you can do this. If you feel ready to start uni now and you have an offer, go for it!

Lots of students now take a year out between graduating and their first job, so you can always do your travelling then (especially if you don’t feel ready for lots of travel yet). Alternatively, applying for jobs abroad after graduation is a great way to expand your horizons by working and seeing an exciting new place. As a graduate currently working in Amsterdam, it is amazing to be able to combine work and living abroad, so I would thoroughly recommend this option.

Enjoy yourself!

A gap year is an unparalleled opportunity to take time off after school for yourself, before the intense (and amazing!) period of university life begins. So, don’t stress it if you decide to take a gap year, just plan your time effectively, make sure you have a source of income to pay for your skiing/surfing/turtle saving, and look forward to all the memories you’ll bring with you to freshers’ week.

 

 

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