The Opendays.com guide to gap years

Will deferring university affect your chances of a place and/or a good job? In most cases the answer is no. In fact, many admissions tutors encourage students to take gap years. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Gap year students are usually more broad-minded and confident, having made the decision to do something different, discover a lot about themselves and meet new challenges.

  • Gap year student have usually spent a some time away from home thus are more independent and are used to handling finances.

  • A gap year builds enthusiasm in a student, and they can be more committed to a course.

[Some departments (mostly maths and chemistry) prefer students to come straight from A-levels however. It is important to ask about this at open days]

THE BIG PICTURE

'GAP YEARS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE' Only 20% of students take gap years. In many cases, the reason for not taking a gap year is because they are considered too expensive.
Some gap year organisations do require you to save thousands of pounds before you travel. However, you have fifteen months from the time of finishing A-levels to the time you start university. This means that you could work for a full year and still travel for 3 months, which would put you in a very stable financial position (working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 12 months at £5/hour = £10,400).

GAP YEAR = GOOD JOB The majority of students (80%) stay on the 'educational conveyor belt', moving from A-levels to university to employment. Top employers will receive thousands of applications for jobs. To get the job, you need to stand out from the crowd. A gap year allows you to achieve this.
What did you do, why did you do it, and (most importantly) what did you achieve from it? This could be the first topic of conversation in an interview. If you make what you did sound interesting then you're already miles ahead of the applicants who only put down 'I like to read', 'I enjoy sports' and 'I like to socialise'. By taking a gap year, you can show character, determination, financial planning and maturity. All of which are things that employers look for.

THE GAP YEAR

WHERE TO GO Where would you like to go? There are many gap year organisations in the UK, with projects in areas all over the world. The Year Out Group is an association of government accredited gap year organisations, check their web site and the other links in the opendays.com links section.

WHAT TO DO There are many options, you can travel independently or with an organisation, work for money, volunteer work, teach, learn a language, conservation work. You can basically do what you want to do, but make sure that it is what you want to do, and not what you think you should do.

WHEN TO DO IT You have 15 months of holiday. If you want to go travelling for 3 months in summer, why not work for a year before hand? Find out the best time to go, look into weather patterns and research cheap airfares and accommodation.

Staying safe on your Gap Year

About 150,000 UK students aged between 17 and 25 who head off annually on a Gap year. The majority of students travel independently but around 20,000 sign up with one of the many gap year organisations.

The looming prospect of several years' tuition fees combined with the expense of a professionally organised gap year (several thousand pounds for a 3-month project or placement) has recently resulted in even more individuals heading off on their own or with friends making safety a vital issue.

Five top tips for a safe Gap Year

1. Pre-departure planning: Research your destinations. If you are travelling outside Europe, then find out what visas you require. Check out guide books such as the The Gap Year Book: The Definitive guide to Planning and Taking a Year Out (Lonely Planet Gap Year Guide). Make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity from the date you intend to return. Get the latest security advice at the excellent FCO Gap year planning site; and get medical advice for your destinations including jabs and anti-malarials. Make sure your insurance covers you worldwide for all eventualities.

However, a Gap Year doesn't have to be all about jungles, mosquitos and full-moon parties: you can also have a great adventure travelling around Europe - check out the Inter Rail pass for an easy and quite affordable way of getting about the continent.

2. Equipment: If you are trekking, or even going by train, 65 litre Rucksack will work best. Take a money belt. A pair of trekking boots and sports sandals are essential. A rape alarm and door lock are especially useful for girls.

3. In-country travel: Sit near to the bus driver. Avoid hiring cars. Order taxis via your youth hostel or hotel. Buy your own food for train journeys. Avoid hitch hiking.

4. Health:Drink plenty of water in hot countries. Purify your water. Eat plenty of fruit. Carry a first-aid kit. Be aware of altitude sickness above 3000m.

5. Safety and security: Lower your profile. Be on your guard in cities and towns. Hand over your money if confronted by muggers. Let someone; somewhere know your rough plans.

ABOVE ALL The most important thing is planning. You will need to plan how you will earn your money, how you will spend your money, how long it will take you to travel across countries, when to book air flights, where to find places to stay etc... There are many web sites and guide books to help you with all of these things (see the links section).

TO SUM UP

You may only have one chance in your life to take a year out. With proper planning, you could make it the best year of your life, developing skills which will help you through university and in the world of work.
To find out more information on gap years, visit the web sites listed in the links section of opendays.com.

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