The Careers Adviser: 'Do any courses link film and music? If I can't pay, will I get no gap-year support abroad?'

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No direction home

Q. My British-German son, educated in Italy, makes short films and composes soundtracks. He wants to study film and music in the UK but I can't find a suitable course. He has considered combining film with a more academic subject.

A. When deciding on any degree, it's important to research your options thoroughly. This is particularly true of creative courses. Your son does have a limited choice of fewer than a dozen joint honours film and music degrees, so he needs to research these in detail. Some of the answers will be in the online prospectus; others may require an exchange of emails with the departments concerned.

I'd suggest finding out about access to studios and equipment, as well as discussing what technical tools and programs are taught. What are the tutors' specialisms and backgrounds? This might be pertinent in view of his interest in cinema beyond the UK.

Find out, too, what alumni have gone on to do, and how much contact there is with potential employers and industry insiders. Are students encouraged to undertake "live" projects in the film and music business, to showcase their work, and to enter outside festivals and competitions? Employers in these very competitive fields will expect this proactive approach. Going the extra mile will be crucial to your son's success after he finishes university and will be particularly important if he decides to do film studies together with an academic subject.

It may be helpful to think of the first degree as a base. Many creative students see it as a necessary foundation, but feel that they go on to learn just as much later through entry-level jobs and short courses. So this course will be the start, not the end, of your son's vocational education.

Mind the financial gap

Q. I want to go abroad to work with children in my gap year, but can't afford to pay much. Will this mean I won't get the back-up some organisations provide if you pay?

A. It is possible to volunteer without spending a lot of money and be confident you will be looked after, but you have to do your research. It's important to know about the company you'll be travelling with, whether you are paying them money or not, says Marie Kemplay of WorldWide Volunteering (www.wwv.org.uk), which maintains a huge database of volunteering opportunities. "The best thing to do is to speak to someone who has previously worked with the company," she says. She also suggests you check out www.yearoutgroup.org, which has an advice page for people planning a year abroad, listing all the questions you should ask, such as whether inoculations will be provided, or what arrangements there are for dealing with emergencies.

WorldWide says schemes where costs are low and support systems should be good include Ecoteer (www.ecoteer.com), where prices vary (you pay for travel, and in some cases you're given free board and lodging, and perhaps food); and the European Voluntary Service via www.britishcouncil.org/connectyouth, which throws in board and lodging, travel and pocket money. Look up Camp America (www.campamerica.co.uk), where for a minimal amount you can join support staff on a US summer camp, and www.gapadvice.org, which gives independent advice on travel plans and deals with organisations with structured placements.

Careers adviser: Gill Sharp, careers consultant. Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or email to chaydon @blueyonder.co.uk

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