Fill the gap

The benefits of a well-chosen year out last for more than 12 months. By Wendy Berliner
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The Independent Online

What if you miss your grades and don't want to go into Clearing? What if you meet the grades of your insurance offer but have second thoughts about it? What if you get your grades but feel that higher education is not for you now? It happens.

What if you miss your grades and don't want to go into Clearing? What if you meet the grades of your insurance offer but have second thoughts about it? What if you get your grades but feel that higher education is not for you now? It happens.

The first thing to say, if you are holding an offer and you feel you don't want to take it up, is don't take any precipitate action. Discuss the consequences with a teacher or adviser at school and with your parents.

If, as a result of those discussions, you decide that you don't want to accept the offer for this year, you must let the university or college involved know straight away so that they can release the place to someone else. It's possible that they may be willing to defer the place until next year if you have a really good reason, for example you feel you need more time to mature to make the best use of the place.

But what will you do next? If you have decided that work, not higher education is right for you now, then you know your course of action: just make sure that you get a job with training and prospects and don't end up in a cul-de-sac. If, however, you want to go into higher education next year, you have a lot of choices to make about your gap year.

Some of you may use part or all of it to re-take exams to improve your grades; for advice on that see page 34. Others will choose to work to build up a cash fund for uni and to widen your experience of life. Others of you might want to go on a long working holiday so that you can travel to the far flung places you have never seen with a back pack and a mate or two.

There are also plenty of commercial firms offering placements doing good work in exotic locations around the world which you will still be able to organise at fairly short notice. All kinds of placements are available - from the fairly standard ones such as teaching English to disadvantaged children in the Third World to work on elephant conservation and researching the movements of tortoises on coral islands! Bear in mind though that these are effectively holidays with a purpose, so they don't come cheap. You could be paying £3,000 for just a month away.

Less glamorous, far less costly but extremely worthwhile are placements in this country helping those in need. Community Service Volunteers, for example, offers placements all over the country and pays you pocket money while you are working. But there are many other organisations that would welcome your help, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - it depends what interests you.

Bear in mind that in 2006 there are potential changes to funding of higher education in the different parts of the UK. You could be paying tuition fees nearly three times what they are now, depending on where you live and where you choose to study, or not at all. If you decide to take a gap break before going into higher education, it makes sense to limit it to just one year. That way you would be entering university or college of higher education in 2005, the last year under the old fee structure. Ministers have agreed a concession for students leaving school in 2005 who take a gap year and start university in 2006. They, exceptionally, will not be liable for the increased tuition fees but it is not clear whether that is true for anyone who left school earlier.

Whatever you decide to do, make it work for you. Many universities positively welcome students who take gap years because they are more mature and more likely to appreciate what's on offer and settle down to their work more quickly.

CONTACTS

www.yearoutgroup.org

www.worldwidevolunteering.org.uk

www.gapyear.com

UK-based projects

www.volunteering.org

www.do-it.org.uk

www.youngscot.org

www.btcv.org.uk

www.rspb.org.uk

www.csv.org.uk

www.mv-online.gov.uk

www.volunteer-reading-help.co.uk

www.nationaltrust.org.uk

www.mcsuk.org

International projects

www.gap.org.uk

www.spw.org

www.teaching-abroad.co.uk

www.trekforce.org.uk

www.bunac.org

www.raleigh.org.uk

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