Gap year: Why take a gap year?
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A gap year involves taking time out either before going to university, during your course or afterwards. You can travel, work or volunteer in another country or in the UK...
In the current economic climate, it is important to make productive use of your time out, with a focus on developing your skills and gaining valuable experience to further your career.
Develop your skills
Taking a gap year can help you to:
- gain relevant work experience, either by paid work or volunteering;
- improve your employability by developing skills such as organisation, communication, teamwork and using initiative. For a list of transferable skills that can be gained from gap year experiences, see Real Gap Experience
- improve existing skills, e.g. foreign languages or IT;
- learn new skills, such as teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), scuba diving, skiing or snowboarding;
- stretch yourself by trying a new challenge or experience, such as trekking or volunteering in a developing country.
Shape your career path
A gap year can inform your decisions about your future career by helping you to:
- develop maturity and independence;
- gain new insights about yourself;
- take time to decide what to do in the future.
If you are taking time out before or during your course, use the break to help you to return refreshed and ready to study again. Universities usually welcome this as it can broaden your horizons and help you to develop a more mature attitude to independent study.
It is important to plan a constructive gap year with your future career goals in mind. Activities and experiences from structured and planned time out can be used to:
- boost key skills on your CV to increase your chances of getting a job or course interview;
- help you to consider and research your career options, showing potential employers your commitment to a specific career area;
- step out of your comfort zone, showing initiative and determination by working or travelling abroad;
- appreciate global issues;
- gain a working knowledge of a language.
Be aware of the risks
Although time out can provide many benefits, it is important to be aware of the risks and challenges of taking a gap year. These include:
- the costs involved and the likelihood of increasing your debts, especially if you participate in an organised gap year programme straight after graduation;
- the increasing numbers of gap year organisations to choose from. You will need to assess which operate ethically and weigh up the benefits of what you will get for your money;
- focusing too much on fun and relaxation, which may not add any value to your CV from an employer's perspective.
- Do your research - speak to people who have been on a gap year and join online forums.
- Take time to plan and prepare - it can take 9-12 months to plan and raise the funds.
- Don't think of your gap year as a break from your career. Keep in mind how you will capitalise on the skills and experiences gained to boost your CV.
- Use the time to make contacts and develop networks that could help you in your future career.
- Think about your existing skills and how you could use them, e.g. mentoring, sport, first aid certificate, language skills, childcare skills.
Find out more about planning your gap year and search for gap year opportunities.
Written by Wendy Reed, AGCAS