Taking time out from education is a great way of getting a taste of the real world. Employers look favourably on gap years as a sign of independent thinking, self-motivation and are good subjects to bring up in interviews as a source of proven experience.
If you didn’t take a gap year before university then you may have heard some interesting stories from your fellow students about what they got up to on theirs and want to take one yourself. If you did, then you’ll know how valuable they can be and may be thinking of taking another. Here we offer some advice on how to make the most of a gap year, depending on when you take it: you might have you own ideas too, though!
During your course
Taking 12 months off from your course is not common, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Although it can be a requirement for some subjects, such as engineering or modern languages, it can be a personal decision as well. Don’t feel you have to plough your way through your course before taking steps outside of education. A gap year can be self-motivated to expand, enhance or escape studying. Perhaps you want to have time to take stock of what you’ve learnt so far so you’re especially clued up for the crucial last phase of university.
One method is to go on a work placement or series of placements that relate to your course and put your skills to the test. This can be an ideal way to test drive jobs for when you finish, making contacts along the way. Alternatively, you could opt for charity or voluntary work, which would be excellent for your CV and give you the chance to work with a wide range of people. Choose something that interests you so you’re enthusiastic and dedicated to performing as it will really boost your enjoyment. When you finish any placement, remember to get a written reference from your manager or a senior member of staff: these can be valuable to proving your skills when applying for jobs.
A gap year could also be a time to earn much needed cash, putting theory into practice or doing something you’ll never return to when you graduate. With top-up fees and rising living costs, there are even more reasons why students need to fit work into their hectic schedules, but a gap year working can be a great way to replenish low financial funds while also gaining practical workplace skills. Again, try to find work that interests you and, ideally, will build on your existing skillset. Again, don’t forget that reference when you finish too.
Travelling is another option and often very attractive if you choose somewhere hot! Remember that when you start work you will only get four to five weeks holiday, so if you have a burning passion to see the world, or at least a small part of it, now may be the time to act.
Working abroad is the way to go if you might not be able to afford a temporary life of leisure, though it can be hard to arrange a job before you travel. Check out internship options via UK-based firms if you can – there are many that offer places in America and Asia.
Volunteering schemes abroad are generally rewarding and, like a placement, look great on CVs. You could find yourself teaching English as a foreign language, helping on local conservation projects or building village facilities.
After your course
If you intend on getting a job after finishing your degree, then a gap year is normally used to do something radically different. This might be a year of travelling or working in a stop-gap job before going travelling. Both are good ways of making the most of the freedom you’re given at the end of your degree. Sometimes graduate recruitment schemes can look daunting when you’re still studying, or you may miss their deadlines first time round, so you could always use a year out to apply for them while working elsewhere – perhaps at a charity or on voluntary work if not paid employment.
A lot of people enjoy their time in a university town or city so much that they decide to stay there with their friends for a year or more before moving off in different directions. This can be an excellent way of gaining independence surrounded by familiar faces rather than moving elsewhere for a job in a place where you don’t know anyone. Who knows, you might find that you never leave! Lining up a postgraduate course after your undergraduate degree? Then it may be a wise move to not to launch yourself straight into it following initial graduation.
You could use your new qualification to get a job that will assist with your further studies, or simply to save up some money to pay for another foray into university life; or, again, it may be time to do that travelling you have been putting off for so long. Going on a gap year abroad straight after a degree is an excellent way to sidestep the stress of finding a job and unwinding after an intense study period. Similar advice to doing a gap year during your course applies: be sure to make it enjoyable but rewarding and consider how you can ensure you can highlight the skills and experiences to employers as valuable assets in the workplace. Generally employers will look favourably on gap years as building character, independence and teamwork abilities so as long as you weren’t on a beach building up a debt for months you’ll have a lot to offer!