An unplanned gap year can be an unexpected bonus
If you have missed out on a university place, there are ways to make the most of this year off. It's not too late to spend the time profitably, says Chiara Cavaglieri
Sunday 05 September 2010
Too many A-level students are chasing too few university places.
Many would-be students may find that they don't have a place to study in 2010-11. An unexpected gap year is the result. If you're in this position and you want to do something with your time out, it's crucial to sort out the finances across the board – from finding the cheapest way to travel to the nitty gritty of daily budgeting.
"A last-minute gap year must come as a big shock to students, not only because of the lifestyle change, but the idea of how much money is needed may be overwhelming," says Kevin Mountford, the head of banking at comparison site Moneysupermarket.com.
One of the most popular gap year pastimes is volunteer work, which can also boost your university chances next time around. But with some projects costing thousands of pounds, researching your options is a must. Resource websites such as Volunteer4 africa.org and Ecoteer.com, which list volunteer job opportunities abroad, can cut out the middle man. Costs of projects will vary widely so take the time to find something that you will enjoy and can afford. For example, registered charity UNA Exchange offers more affordable "voluntourism" options than most, charging £12 for a year-long membership and offering long term placements starting at £200.
With many projects, food and accommodation are provided free but you'll still to need to fork out for flights, insurance and visa costs. Local organisations such as the Rotary Club may be willing to sponsor you or you can try holding events to raise the cash. If you've spent the summer working to fund a trip and you haven't worked for a full financial year, make sure you claim any tax back before you leave.
If volunteering is beyond your pocket and you're planning to find paid work abroad instead, you will need to check for any restrictions first.
"Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, South Africa and Japan have working holiday visas or J1 visas you may be eligible for. Of these, Australia is currently short of workers, with tens of thousands of jobs available in Sydney this month alone," says Tom Griffiths, the founder of Gapyear.com.
No matter where you plan to go, don't leave the country without travel insurance. Travelling for an extended period means the chances of falling ill or having something stolen are high, so getting appropriate cover is essential. You need to have a specific gap year policy in place because standard annual policies cover you for only a limited period (usually 28 days).
Always check the baggage cover. The contents of your backpack may add up to more than some of the cheaper policies will cater for. Make sure you're not left stranded halfway through your travels without enough money to replace your belongings should the worst happen.
If you're planning some adventurous activities get specific cover for these. This needn't break the bank; according to Moneysupermarket.com you can get cover for sports such as parachuting, scuba diving and mountaineering from just £110 with the Alpha 100 backpacker policy from insurer Infinity.
Another thing to sort out is your travel money. First, let your bank know of your travel plans so that it doesn't cancel your cards when it sees you spending overseas.
"Taking time to sort your travel money out as early as possible could make all the difference. No one wants to have to cut their trips short, or worse, get stranded with no money, just because they didn't plan properly," says Mr Mountford.
Ideally, you should take a combination of cash, debit and credit cards, and watch out for excessive fees and charges for overseas usage. Both Nationwide and the Post Office have low charges and you can set up a direct debit before you leave to clear your debt each month. The Santander Zero card has no loading charge on overseas purchases but cash withdrawals are charged at 27.9 per cent which will quickly add up.
The Nationwide FlexAccount current account is the only provider that doesn't make foreign currency charges on purchases and cash transactions anywhere in the Visa Europe region. Unfortunately, this is set to change in November when using the debit card abroad will incur a 2 per cent charge and an extra fee of £1 for cash withdrawals.
Good options for credit cards are the Nationwide Gold (Visa Europe region) and Abbey Zero cards as they don't levy foreign exchange fees. In comparison, Thomas Cook's credit card charges a 2.5 per cent transactional fee which would set you back an extra £12.50 on purchases adding up to €500.
A big problem, however, is that many school leavers will struggle to get accepted for the best credit cards because they haven't had time to build up a credit history. If you're unable to get a competitive credit card to use abroad, you can ask your parents to have you as an additional user on their cards. Alternatively, you can apply for a prepaid card which doesn't depend on your credit record.
Prepaid cards from the likes of Caxton FX, FairFX and Travelex let you load cash before you travel and use it as you would a credit card. You can spend only what you've loaded on to the card. As most of the big providers allow you to top up online, this is a safe and convenient way to carry money. Another big advantage is that if you run into any problems while you're away, your parents can also top up the card at home. Expect loading fees of 3 per cent and ATM cash withdrawal fees of about £2 but watch out for other charges such as application fees. The Tuxedo prepaid travel card, for example, costs £19.95 to purchase.
As well as organising your core finance, keeping everyday costs as low as possible will make a big difference. For example, if you're calling home consider VoIP options such as Skype for free calls, and see if you can cut the cost of travel.
"If you're travelling around Europe, an InterRail pass is essential. Otherwise budget airlines or even asking for parents' air miles are a good idea. Hostelworld.com is full of hostel user ratings, photos and accommodation bargains," says Richard Melville, editor of Studentbeans.com.
If money is tight, research the living costs in your chosen destination, set yourself a realistic weekly budget and stick to it. You'll usually find cheaper deals by booking accommodation and flights online in advance. Discount cards such as the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) card are also popular with gappers. This costs £10 and can save you money on hostels in more than 60 countries.
Tom Griffiths, gapyear.com
If you're now facing an unplanned gap year, or even a planned gap year but you haven't got yourself in gear yet, you need to start now. Don't waste your year. Keep on top of the finances. Plan to get something out of the year which can aid your personal and perhaps chosen career development and make sure you see it through."
Budget 2015: George Osborne is set to get tough with further cuts in public spending
Buyers beware of new-build home headaches
Dirty tricks in a divorce can cause some nasty surprises
Simon Read: 'Taylor Swift tickets purchased on Viagogo were cancelled hours before the concert'
Simon Read: You're guilty until proven innocent when HMRC sends in the tax credit detectives
- 1 Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 Optical illusion turns blue demon into brunette
- 4 Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life
- 5 The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
iJobs Money & Business
£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...
£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....
£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...
Day In a Page
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.