Andrew Oswald: Employers look for more than good grades

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The Independent Online

"Should I do a gap year?" Lots of students ask this question. There is no golden rule: the right answer depends on your aim.

"Should I do a gap year?" Lots of students ask this question. There is no golden rule: the right answer depends on your aim.

The first thing you may consider is whether taking a year out will improve your eventual degree results very significantly. In researching this article, I could find no statistical link between having a year off and going on to get better university exam results afterwards. However, there is some likelihood that being older is, in itself, a good thing. Work by Jeremy Smith and Robin Naylor, published in 2001 in the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, shows that in the United Kingdom older students perform better in their exams. Unfortunately, the authors could not calculate whether taking one extra year before going to university produces some of that same beneficial effect. My reading of their statistics is that, at a push, it might improve a student's chance of a good class of degree by a tiny amount - perhaps one percentage point. But this is just my guesstimate.

Second, if your objective is a better job in the long run, then the case for a gap year is stronger. After talking to careers advisers, their professional view is to do one, but to pick carefully.

Here are the words of an experienced adviser: "My opinion - one that would be backed up by what I hear from employers - is that a gap year (whether it's taken before or immediately following university) can be very useful. But it has to be spent doing something that adds value for employers."

This adviser's opinion is not based on statistical research, but it makes sense. Employers do look for more than just an excellent academic record: they need evidence of the ability to work in a team, potential for leadership, talent at verbal and written communication, and much else.

Third, you could make some money to help when you get to university by doing a bit of paid work, part-time or otherwise. Nothing wrong with that. Moreover, this argument may cut more ice with a grumpy or skeptical parent.

Fourth, although I cannot often tell whether my undergraduates had a gap year or not, I tend to believe that a year out tends to make people a shade more mature.

Fifth, if you are thinking of taking a year out , then do bear in mind that you can do a gap year after taking a bachelor's degree.

Sixth, a gap year can be fun. There is something to be said for trusting instinct. "Hell, I just want to" seems to me the only winning argument for a gap year.

The writer is a professor of economics at the University of Warwick

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