The traditional image of a gap year student may be an 18-year-old Hooray Henry, but the demographic of those taking years out is changing rapidly. Today's gapper is as likely to be a 20-something as a teenager, and they can come from any social background. One particular boom area is recent graduates.

The traditional image of a gap year student may be an 18-year-old Hooray Henry, but the demographic of those taking years out is changing rapidly. Today's gapper is as likely to be a 20-something as a teenager, and they can come from any social background. One particular boom area is recent graduates.

"The number of people taking gap years after university is growing," says Tom Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com. "People are coming out of university, and they are just not getting the jobs they want."

This is partly because the average student simply doesn't have the skills that employers are looking for. "These days, recruiters are after life skills," says Griffiths. "Which means organisational skills, communication skills and evidence of motivation and drive." All things which degrees might not give you, but which a gap years would.

"Employers really go for gap years," says Griffiths. "So they want to take on those who have done them." Not even the mounting debts that today's 20-somethings face - the average student graduates with debts of around £10,000 - are not enough to scare potential gappers.

"The generation coming through is very much of the 'live now, pay later' mindset," says Griffiths. "We're all in debt, but no-one is bothered by it." He doesn't even think that the increase in student debts caused by top-up fees will make a difference.

Having been subjected to major examinations each year every year, since they were 16, many of today's graduates feel in serious need of some rest before they start work.

Victoria Evans, 22, studied English Literature at Cardiff University and is just one such student. "I found university quite stressful," she says. "Largely because I put a lot of stress on myself - I wasn't happy unless I achieved very high grades. So after university I felt so weary that I just wanted a complete break from every kind of work."

Victoria decided to take a year off and went out to South Africa for three months to work in a game reserve. She is certain that it was the right decision. "My gap year was a huge pressure release for me," she says. "It was just so completely different from university: there was no stress, and no pressures. You were just encouraged to make a positive difference in any way you could. It was wonderful."

But gap years can do much more than help you to get a job: they can also help to change the way you view the world - and yourself.

"When I was in South Africa, I underwent something of an emotional leap," says Victoria. "I'm a lot more adventurous now. I used to think that the world was such a horrible and frightening place, but I went over there and I realised that I could cope, and that the world really isn't that bad at all. I'm going to New Zealand next year."

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