How to Get the Most Out of Your Gap Year
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The gap year stereotype - complete with obligatory elephant trousers, meaningless Sanskrit tattoo and nose piercing - is a dying breed.
With young people across the country vying for a spot at their first choice university, savvy gappers are swapping Full Moon Parties for CV-boosting internships, volunteering programs and even full-time employment.
The competition has upped its game... and you're going to have to pull your socks up if you want in.
Have you decided to take a year out before uni? Or do you just need a break before embarking on a career? Keep reading to find out how a constructive gap year can help your application stand out against hundreds of others.
Know anyone else doing a gap year?
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Gap year ideas: what can you do?
First thing’s first, what are you actually going to do with yourself for a whole year?
You could spend it drinking dodgy spirits out of a plastic bucket on some Thai island you can’t quite remember the name of... Or you could use it to break out of your comfort zone, experience different cultures and develop some new skills.
Stuck for ideas? Here’s some inspiration to get you started.
This is a pretty smart gap year option: as well as grounding you in one place for a while - a surefire way to improve your language skills - volunteering is a chance to make a real difference to the world.
There are heaps and heaps of gap year programs out there; from football coaching in Ghana to rehabilitating injured orangutans in Borneo, or helping conservation work in Costa Rica.
“But why do I have to pay to volunteer?”
That’s a fair question. However, the fee should be used to cover expenses for having you on the placement, including your accommodation, food and transport. Many programs also donate a portion of their proceeds to investing in the local community.
If you have any concerns about where your money is going, don’t be shy in asking the organisers before you commit. For more advice, read How to Find a Responsible Volunteering Project by Gapyear.com.
Check out these sites for further help with planning your trip: Frontier, Kaya Responsible Travel, Pod Volunteer and Plan My Gap Year.
If you really want to get ahead of your peers, an overseas internship is a marvellous way of ticking off your bucket list and kicking off your career at the same time.
Depending on the type of contract on offer, an internship can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Shorter positions can easily be sandwiched into a longer backpacking adventure, so you don’t have to miss out on travelling.
Gap year internships are largely unpaid and usually require you to pay a fee. However, this fee should cover everything you need to set yourself up in a new country. For instance, The Intern Group programs all include accommodation, travel expenses, professional training and a full calendar of social events.
If you want to stay closer to home, lots of employers in the UK now offer internships to those fresh out of school. As an example, Accenture runs an eight-month school leaver programme designed to show young people what it takes to succeed in the consulting industry.
Have we got you thinking about your options? Click here to start applying for work experience!
Paid work abroad
Keen to start saving for university? Need to fund your gap year travel? Don’t want to work at the Co-op down the road?
Here are just a few ways you can line your pockets whilst living in another country:
Can a gap year improve my future career prospects?
Great news: your gap year can actually help you get a job - if you use the time wisely. In fact, a whopping 80% of students felt that their gap year added to their employability.
Here’s a couple of reasons why:
#1 It gives you more time to consider your options
You’re expected to juggle all the stress of A-Levels with huge decisions like: what are you going to do with the next few years of your life? It’s a big ask.
A gap year gives you the breathing space you need to have a real think about your future. Do you still want to go to university? Have you chosen the right course? After all, you don’t want to end up studying a subject you hate for three years.
You never know, you might even find your true calling in life. For instance, you might decide to dedicate your life’s work to rescuing a particularly rare breed of puffin.
#2 You’ll pick up transferable skills that employers love
You’re guaranteed to pick up a bunch of skills along the way that will help you in the workplace; including teamwork, independent thinking and good communication.
Was there a time when you had to stay calm under pressure? Perhaps you lived with locals who didn’t speak your language? Did you challenge yourself to try something new?
It’s all CV gold. Employers have been known to set off party poppers and don paper party hats when a candidate uses real-life examples in an interview.
After all those years in the hamster wheel of education, you now have twelve whole months of freedom to play with. Whether you want to try jumping out of a plane (preferably whilst attached to a harness) or just spend a few months unwinding on beautiful beaches, this is the time to do it.
However, if you can squeeze something proactive into your trip - something that shows potential employers that you’ve used the time to broaden your horizons and gain in confidence - your gap year could also be your one-way ticket to a successful career.