Gap year: Plan your gap year
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A gap year can be a very productive way of spending your time if it is well thought out and adds valuable skills and achievements to your CV
Planning beforehand and making clear to employers what it is you have gained as a result, are equally important to maximise the benefits of a gap year.
Before your gap year
- Goals - set yourself specific things to achieve or skills to gain.
- Time frame - how long can you be away? When can you leave? Do you need to be available on any specific dates in the future, particularly if taking a gap year before you go to university? If you are in the middle of your studies, make necessary arrangements with your institution and check when you need to be back.
- Decisions - UK or abroad? Are you going to travel, work or volunteer or a combination of these? Are you going to organise it yourself or use a gap year provider? Will you travel alone or with others?
- Fundraising - how much can you afford and/or how long do you need to raise more money?
- Research - what visas, vaccinations, etc, do you need for the countries you plan to visit? For more details, see country profiles and check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
- Language skills - do you need to learn or develop a language before travelling to your chosen country?
- Think about your return - prepare in advance for any relevant opportunities, e.g. graduate training schemes.
During your gap year
- Evaluate whether you are meeting your goals.
- Record your experiences - think about the skills you are developing, lessons you have learned and any challenges you have overcome. This can provide great evidence of what you have gained from a gap year for prospective employers.
- If unexpected opportunities come up - look ahead and revise your plans.
- Keep an eye on your finances - make sure you are not going to run out of money while travelling.
After your gap year
Employers value time out but only if it has been well thought through and structured so that you can sell it in a relevant way. They look for candidates who can demonstrate they have set goals, achieved them, learned from mistakes and gained experience relevant to their career plans.
You need to be able to articulate what you have gained from a gap year and how this might have benefits in the workplace.
Relevant attributes you may gain from your gap year include:
- confidence, maturity, determination - many 'returners' speak of being stretched beyond their expectations and finding they could rise to a situation or challenge;
- adaptability, self-reliance, independence - you may have travelled independently or had to change your travel plans to avoid a conflict zone or you may have applied your skills in a variety of ways through volunteering at home or abroad;
- organisational skills - are vital for all aspects of taking time out, from making applications and raising money, through to ensuring you have adequate accommodation along the way;
- communication skills - may have been developed, depending on your gap activities, such as communicating with people off the tourist trail or in remote communities;
- problem-solving - making decisions, often under pressure, can become a reality when you face situations such as accommodation not being available, your passport being lost or stolen, or projects that do not work out as you planned. Record examples of how you overcame setbacks to provide evidence of your initiative and resilience;
- teamwork skills - gained from working with other people to achieve a bigger goal;
- global business skills - international contacts or an understanding of different business models in other countries will be attractive to employers.
There is a useful checklist of skills at Real Gap Experience
. Some gap year companies may offer to write a reference for you. See also GapYear.com - Guide to Getting a Job after Travelling
Consider writing up your experiences. Gap-year.com
has a section on travel writing and they are interested in stories of gap year experiences and photographs, which may be a good opportunity for budding journalists to get their work published.
Written by Wendy Reed, AGCAS