Gap-year adventures come in many guises but regardless of where you go, the question on most returnees' minds is: how and when can I get back out there? Well, surveying may just be your ticket. The scope is immense, from huge construction projects to brokering the latest million-pound development, to ensuring victims of natural disasters have a roof over their heads. For many, the idea of being paid to travel and work in some of the more exotic places on earth is just too good to pass up.

Who knows? In four or five years' time, you could be working on projects to ensure the most efficient use of London's Olympic venues after the competitors have gone home. You could be involved in planning flood defences on some of the more vulnerable sections of Britain's North Sea coast. Or you might be part of the team running the annual Glastonbury festival.

For the majority of future surveyors, the first step is a university degree. Here, the question is whether you choose a course with surveying in the title (building surveying, construction surveying or quantity surveying are three of the most common), or one in a relevant area, but not directly linked to surveying (civil engineering, geography or estate management, for example).

A good place to start your search is on the course pages of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) website ( The institution works closely with universities to ensure that the content of degree programmes they recognise provides a good preparation for work in every branch of the profession.

After you finish your first degree, you'll be faced with a choice between moving to a postgraduate course that is more finely tuned to a specific area of the profession (you can find these on the RICS website as well) or going straight into a job. But whichever route you choose, there'll still be a good deal more learning – theoretical and practical – to do, and more qualifications to collect.

Many first degrees contain a year's work placement as part of a four-year course, which for some students provides a crucial introduction not just to the world of surveying, but to future employers as well.

Andrew Williamson, 24, did just such a placement with the consultancy firm, EC Harris, during his quantity surveying degree at John Moores University in Liverpool. After graduation, the firm took him on full-time as a cost manager, initially working on the Terminal Five project at Heathrow. But earlier this year, he was moved to work on a beach development project in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. The £1bn scheme involves new beaches, parks, marinas and hotels: already an impressive CV entry for someone who was a university student a couple of years ago.

"I enjoy the fact that not every day is the same, and having a career in surveying opens up the opportunity of working pretty much anywhere in the world on challenging and interesting projects," he says.

It's during these first few years of work that most surveyors complete the process of becoming chartered, which allows them to put MRICS after their name, a label recognised as a mark of professional quality the world over.

To become chartered, a surveyor needs to pass the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), a pathway that students on all RICS-accredited degrees and postgraduate courses are automatically channelled towards.

Achieving the APC entails being supervised during 400 days of relevant practical experience and passing a final assessment interview with a senior chartered surveyor.

Kevin Houlihan, 27, who works for the construction consultancy Arcadis AYH, passed that hurdle last year, an event that saw him promoted to the position of project surveyor on the Arcadis operation within the group of construction firms building the Olympic Stadium for London 2012.

His route to that moment began with a three-year quantity surveying degree at Reading University. "Gaining the RICS qualification was a key milestone in my career," he says. "I know I will be learning new things throughout, but this was the first step that indicates that I am competent in my profession."