Courses Guide: How to get the best from a year's gap: Karen Gold looks at the benefits and pitfalls of taking time off before study

Half-way through Clearing with a handful of rejections and no definite prospect of a course this autumn, desperation may set in. Youngsters who have always assumed the road from A- levels leads straight to higher education may find themselves questioning why they ever wanted to do a degree at all.

The idea of taking a year off frequently follows. A time to reconsider assumptions, widen experience and get away from it all. Yet the 'gap' year has acquired a mixed reputation: parents, admissions officers and employers may regard it as admirably character-building, or a complete waste of time.

The worst possible start to a year off is to embark on a degree course you don't want, at a college you don't like, and then have nine months to fill because you abandon it all by Christmas. The best possible start is to have planned your year off at least six months ago. The compromise is to think and plan as quickly but thoroughly as possible now.

'There are fewer opportunities at the last minute after A- level results come out,' says Rachel Bull of the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, the government-

funded repository of expertise on voluntary work, paid jobs, courses, far-flung adventures and everything else.

'We get inundated with inquiries after A-levels, and some of them are more realistic than others. People quite often have no idea what's available, and our publications try to help them decide if they should do it, why they should do it and how to get the best out of it. There are still opportunities available if people are prepared to look for them.'

Why not take a year off? Your future colleges or employer may regard it as a waste of time; you may end up doing dead-end jobs; you may get rusty or disillusioned with studying. When you return to college you will be a year older than your fellow students and a year behind your friends.

If a year off attracts you, check with course tutors at colleges that this will not count against you. Then work out what you want to achieve.

The Central Bureau publishes 20 leaflets on different options for the 'gap' year, plus a number of books including one called A Year Between and another called Working Holidays listing possible work abroad. (These can be ordered by post - see details below - and should be in libraries and careers offices.)

For Central Bureau's 20 leaflets, send two first-class stamps to The Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, Seymour Mews, London W1H 9PE. Tel: 071-486 5101. A Year Between, from the same address, costs pounds 7.99.

Community Service Volunteers: tel 071-278-6601.

Raleigh International: tel 071-351-7541.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Independent on 10 September.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture