Gap Year Advice
Is a gap year right for me?
Many students decide to take a gap year before they begin university. This can be a productive way to spend a year and is viewed as a positive experience by many universities and employers. However, your teen must use their year constructively in order to show it was worthwhile.
Most universities are happy with students taking a gap year although it is important to check this carefully in advance. For some courses, it might not be wise to take a gap year due to the length of the course (eg medicine or architecture) or the competition for places.
Productive gap years can, however, be very worthwhile by providing an opportunity for your teenager to broaden their horizons, learn new things, challenge themselves and ponder future career options. Undertaking charity work or gaining work experience (eg teaching) in this country or abroad, or undertaking a project with one of the many gap year organisations may also help them later on when they start applying for jobs.
If your teen is thinking of taking a year out, here are some things to get them to consider.
A gap year usually means taking a year out in between periods of studies – often at 18 and after level 3 qualifications, like A Levels, though some people opt to take them between university and starting work. There are lots of things your teen could do on a gap year like travelling, working or volunteering.
Some people apply and get a place at university and then ask for their place to be deferred so that they can have a gap year.
A gap year can offer a great opportunity to develop personal and employability skills or to get experience working in a job area of interest or to meet people from different cultures. Also, some people use their gap year to confirm what sort of job or career they are interested in before they choose their next step.
There are companies which will help your teen to plan their gap year but be warned, it all costs money! Be prepared for a call on the bank of Mum, Dad or carer!!
If it looks like they want the experience of a gap year to help them plan their future work or want to use it to show future employers evidence of skills or independence, then remind them that they need to make sure they balance the fun elements with developing useful skills for the future.
Also, encourage them that they will need to sell what they have learnt through the experience of a gap year in their applications for jobs and courses later on.
What your teen could do
There is a whole range of things they could do during their gap year, like:
- Teach abroad
- Volunteer to work on a project at home or abroad (see below!)
- Work in a paid position to save some money for university
- Gain some unpaid work experience
- Undertake further study or training
The pros and cons of a gap year
- Your teen may feel more energised and refreshed after a gap year, which could lead to them feeling more motivated towards their studies
- They may have the chance to work or study in an area related to their course, which will help them to prepare better for their further studies
- Your teen may have the opportunity to travel, see new places and have new experiences, all of which help build their character and experience
- If they decide on paid work they can earn some money to help finance their degree
- Your teen could gain a sense of real personal achievement through their gap year activities
- A year of more independent living can mean that your teen is more mature and better able to adapt to university life if that is where they are headed
- If your teenager decides to work or volunteer they will gain new skills and develop existing ones
- Your teen may find it hard to settle back into their studies when they return
- They may not be able to discipline themselves for independent study when they return
- It could be expensive, for example, if they decide to travel or do unpaid work experience
- Your teen may feel disconnected from friends who go off to university, leaving them a year behind them (this should not be a major reason not to go. however!)
- If they don’t spend it productively this could give employers a bad impression
Gap year preparations
- If your teen does decide to take a gap year, they will need to decide what they want to do and then plan it carefully.
- When they are deciding what to do, make sure they understand their reasons for a gap year, as this will point them in the right direction
- A useful starting point is the Prospects gap year guide
- Research the options so they can make the right decisions – there are a lot of organisations which can help with gap year ideas and more information about what’s involved – see links below
- Gap year organisations can be helpful, but your teen doesn’t have to use one. Make sure they shop around to find the best deal and the gap year that’s right for them – a great way to develop important employability skills
- Help them to set goals, so they know what they want to accomplish in their year out
- Encourage them to plan their finances, so they don’t get into debt and to think about how much they need to earn and/or how much they will spend
A special note on Volunteering Abroad
Although there are some good placement companies out there, a do-it-yourself placement is the most ethical form of volunteering as your teenager will work directly with the host organisation. It is going to cost a lot less and they (and you!) also have the assurance that any money paid goes directly to the cause rather than paying for the marketing and administration expenses of a gap year or volunteer placement company. If your child opts to work through a ‘sending’ company please be aware that some of these offer little more than glorified holidays and others are more interested in making money than helping the environment or providing sustainable and well-targeted help for local communities. No one benefits from these placements apart from the companies that organise them.
Completing the UCAS form
If your teenager wants to take a gap year, they can still apply to universities one year in advance. They will need to indicate the year that they wish to start on their UCAS form.