Gap years: so what's next?

You've decided to take a year off before higher education - but what do you do?
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The Independent Online

Gap years have become almost a rite of passage. But what do they involve? Backpacking around the globe? Voluntary work in developing countries? Not necessarily. Not all "gappers" head overseas.

Gap years have become almost a rite of passage. But what do they involve? Backpacking around the globe? Voluntary work in developing countries? Not necessarily. Not all "gappers" head overseas.

There are several reasons for taking time out before higher education. One is finance. Due to the escalating cost of doing degree courses, some people simply have to spend time earning money to ease the burden when they go. Another reason - highly relevant at this time - is that some people don't get the grades they need for their first choice and decide to re-apply next year.

So, whatever your reasons for considering a gap year - here are your options: travel; voluntary work (with plentiful options in the UK too); stashing some cash; gaining some experience relevant to your course; study - eg, going abroad to learn a language; and retakes.

Once you have decided on what you want to do, the next question is where are you going to do it. At home? Elsewhere in this country? Overseas? Then comes the little matter (unless you are taking the earning money option) of how you are going to fund it? Last - are you too late? No. But as it can take ages to organise a gap year, you haven't got too much time. If you get hold of one of the gap year guidebooks or consult one of the websites, you should be able to find some organisations that have places left. Popular options like tracking elephants in Zambia are likely to have been taken, but keep looking! Some gap year projects require you to raise a certain amount of money towards the cost. At this stage you might want to search out the cheaper ones rather than those that require the sums you could have raised if you'd been working on your gap year since last autumn.

You don't have to spend the entire year on one project. Several organisations run ones that have start dates throughout the year. If you chose one beginning in, say, January or May you'd have time to save some money first. Alternatively, find one of the projects that pay a small salary.

If you want to learn a new language, there are language schools in most countries - excellent if you can afford it. If not - take the au pair option. You'll have to work but you will be paid by the family.

Will you be staying in the UK? Then you could think about Community Service Volunteers (CSV) for voluntary work or Year In Industry for paid employment. CSV provides accommodation and food (or a living allowance) plus £26 per week. Year In Industry projects offer real work, challenging projects and a minimum weekly salary of £140.

If you are aiming for overseas voluntary work it makes sense to use an organisation to make the arrangements. You need to know that travel, accommodation, health insurance and so on, will be taken care of, that there will be an English-speaking person to meet you - and that there will be some induction and training. Unfortunately, there have been reports of less-than-well organised projects. You don't want to be stranded in Mexico, find the project cancelled after getting your visa and vaccinations or arrive in Bradford, Exeter, Glasgow to work with disadvantaged children to find that nobody was expecting you!

There are two excellent websites you should take a look at: www.yearout group.org is supported by UCAS and the Department for Education and Skills and there is also www.gapyear.com. Both websites let you view a range of possibilities and link to relevant organisations. They contain information for both students and parents.

If you think your parents will worry about a gap year (and they will) put them onto "Advice From a Mother of Three" on the gapyear.com site! There are other websites and other organisations. Just because they are not recommended does not imply that they are not trustworthy.

USEFUL BOOKS

A Year Off... A Year On (Lifetime Careers, available from UCAS £10.99)

Taking a Year Off (Trotman)

Taking a Gap Year, Work Your Way Around the World and Work and Study in Developing Countries (Vacation Work Publications)

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