How to plan a gap year

On the day I received my A-Level results, I turned down my university place and took a gap year instead. It was a last-minute decision I wouldn’t advise, but I do encourage everyone to consider a gap year as a transition between school and university. Here are some options for the different types of gap years and how to plan for them.

What can I do?

Study: I spent some of my gap year studying French in the Alliance Française in Toulouse. For some of you, doing a year of studying before starting university may seem like a nightmare, but it’s a great way to prepare for university. Balancing life in a new place with the demands of learning. It can also be a different way of broadening your knowledge of your chosen degree subject or, like me, an opportunity to try something new before focusing on one subject for three years.

Work: You might want to think beyond university and get some work experience for your future career. Working during your gap year can either be paid or unpaid, depending on your needs and interests. I did unpaid internships and work experience at media companies because I had my eye on journalism or publishing. However, money is often a consideration, and you might want to find paid work to save some much-needed cash for university. The best of both worlds are schemes like Workaway, where you work abroad for bed and board. Whatever your decision, working will help you boost your CV, meet new people, have different experiences, and learn transferable skills.

Volunteer: You might want to use your time to make a difference. That could be volunteering in your local area, such as working in a charity shop. Or going abroad with an organisation like Think Pacific. However, a warning if you want to volunteer in another country: this often comes with a hefty price tag, hard work, and long hours, so consider what you want out of your gap year before you commit. But volunteering is a great way to make a positive impact on people. As well as, experience a completely different culture and use your gap year time productively.

Explore: If the above options sound like hard work, then you might just want to travel during your gap year. Again, money can be an issue. But there are companies like Couchsurfing where you can stay in someone’s house – or sometimes, quite often, on their couch – for free. You could choose a country that’s relatively cheap to travel around, like Asia or South America. Work at the start of your gap year to fund your travels. Or, there’s nothing unadventurous about exploring the UK – there’s some beautiful destinations right on your doorstep.

What will I get out of it?

Increased confidence: The main thing I got out of my gap year was a massive confidence boost. For most people, university can be a culture shock, especially if it’s your first time away from home. Once you’ve had all the new experiences of a gap year, you’ll be confident enough to handle any situations out of your comfort zone, of which they’ll be many at university.

Meeting new people: whatever you’re doing on your gap year, you will meet plenty of like-minded people. Older or younger than you, from a different country, background, religion, or ethnicity, or with a different set of experiences and mind-sets. They will all broaden your own mind and help you develop new ways of thinking. 

New skills: You’ll always pick up new skills on a gap year. Sometimes studying and socialising can get in the way of hobbies and interests at university. During your gap year, you might want to take up a new skill you’ve always wanted to learn. Or you might want to develop a current one. In my case, I focused on my creative writing. I wrote a book that I had the idea for at school but not the time. Practically, these skills will boost your CV and be transferable for both university and a future career.

Unforgettable memories: Possibly to the annoyance of my friends, I’m still telling anecdotes from my gap year five years on. I even wrote a diary to relive the incredible experiences I had that year. Whatever gap year path you may take, whether that decision is led by practicality, money, your CV, or a thirst for an adventure, you will have experiences that you will never forget. 

Written by Florianne H.

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