Student Blog

Don’t fear the gap year

There’s only one thing scarier than applying to university and that’s not applying to university. With last Friday marking the UCAS application deadline, MyTutor is here to offer advice if you find you’re at a loose end about what to do when school finishes.

It’s natural to feel daunted by the prospect of taking a gap year. For the first time in your life your year won’t be split neatly in three terms, each school day sandwiched between the drone of assembly and the sweet clanging of the four o’clock bell.

Instead, you may find that the days stretch out endlessly before you, blurring into one monotonous mass as you stare enviously at your friend’s Facebook photos of fresher’s nights out and new university mates. But this doesn’t have to be the case. If you have the foresight to plan out your gap year then you could find yourself earning money, gaining valuable skills and experience, and travelling the globe. Your gap year may even be the best year of your life.

Here are our tips on how to get the most out of your gap year:

1. Earn some money

This is key. If you want to go travelling on your gap year, you’re going to need a sustainable way to fund your trip (and no, the Bank of Mum & Dad is not sustainable).  Likewise, university can be expensive, so it’s helpful to build up your savings now. The first time you receive a maintenance grant your eyes may ogle at how much money is in your bank account, but once rents have been paid and books bought, you’ll find it doesn’t go as far as expected.

There’s a whole spectrum of ways to earn money, from working as a check-out assistant in your local supermarket to spending six months interning at a large bank. What you end up doing will depend partly on personal preference, partly on how organised you are, and geographical location.

After fourteen years of school, you may opt to have a relaxed part time job in a café, leaving yourself plenty of time for hobbies and visiting friends. Or, if you live near enough to a large city, you could get a work placement at a large bank or financial services company. Deloitte and Accenture offer especially lucrative placements, and will often contribute to your university fees as well. An extensive list of paid placements can be found here.

2. Gain work experience 

Although schools often encourage their students to gain work experience and sometimes even designate a portion of the academic year to this task, you will most likely have only experienced a maximum of one or two professional environments. Understanding how an office works, making contacts, and figuring out which industry is right for you are all important lessons you can learn on your gap year. With university students now applying for banking Spring Weeks in their first years and law schools in their second, it’s beneficial to get ahead of the game and work out where your interests lie. Alternatively, you may want to volunteer at a local charity or NGO. As well as giving you the opportunity to help people in your local community, volunteering is also a good way to meet people and make new friends when your school mates leave for university and are dispersed across the country.

Make sure your CV is up to date and get started by writing a cover letter. A helpful guide on how to prepare these can be found here and here. Then search online for companies you may be interested in. Often they’ll have a section on their website advertising work experience and internships. Even if they don’t, it could be worth sending in a speculative application. If you have any family friends with interesting jobs then why not ask them politely for some advice on how to get into your chosen field, or even see if you can spend a few days shadowing them.

Obviously, there are thousands of businesses and organisations out there, so you might find these websites helpful to narrow down your searches and point you in the right direction:

3. Figure out your next move

People don’t apply to university for lots of reasons. Maybe you couldn’t decide which course was right for you, or perhaps you’re waiting to see what your final grades are before making a decision. Or maybe you have been planning on taking a gap year for ages. Make sure to keep in contact with friends when they leave for university, and ask if they’re enjoying their course and campus. It’s a worthwhile use of your time to go and visit them, so you can get a genuine feel for their university and see if it’s the right fit for you. Or perhaps you want to proceed to higher education but not via a traditionally academic route. If you’re artistically talented, then your next step could be applying to an art foundation course, a drama school, or a conservatoire.

If you think that you want to skip university altogether and enter the world of work then getting an apprenticeship could be your next step. As an apprentice you’ll combine practical training in a job with study, gaining skills and earning whilst you learn. Apprenticeships are offered by several large and well-respected companies, including EE, Google, Asos and the BBC. More information about UK apprentice schemes can be found here.

4. Learn new skills

Your gap year represents the perfect chance to set yourself goals and learn new skills. Use your free time to improve your guitar skills, hone your acting abilities, train for a marathon or finally master knitting. A quick internet search should provide you with a list of local classes. Alternatively, if you live near a university, you might be able to study one of their modules as an outside student. Why not phone up and ask?

Two of the most popular skills to gain on a gap year are languages and teaching. Use Duolingo to learn a language for free, or invest in private lessons. Always wanted to learn Spanish? You could spend the first half of the year learning it in the UK, before travelling to South America to put it into practice! If you’d rather stick with English then getting a TEFL qualification is a great idea. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Once certified you’ll be able to teach English in numerous countries across the globe, earning money as you go and developing your teaching, communication and class leadership skills.


5. Go travelling!

The drawl of “On my gap yah in Asiah/Africah/South Americah” has spawned countless impersonations and one very famous video, but despite all the clichés surrounding travelling, visiting new countries and going beyond your comfort zone is likely to be the most exciting, rewarding and memorable part of your gap year. The classic formula is to combine backpacking and volunteering, which will give you the chance to enjoy the nomadic experience and also to get to know one or two places in more detail so you can really connect and engage with the local community.

When planning your trip, STA Travel is a good place to start. They’ll help you organise your gap year adventure, book flights and sort your insurance. Their website is a veritable gold mine of suggestions for trips and exciting experiences. If you want to volunteer, we would recommend looking at the International Citizen Service, an overseas volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds, funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development. They run programmes in numerous countries, from Bangladesh and Burkina Faso to Nepal and South Africa.

Another popular gap year choice is WWOOFing (not the dog kind!) As a WWOOFer you will volunteer to live and learn on an organic farm. In exchange for 4-6 hours work a day your host will provide food and accommodation. Available across five continents, WWOOFing will bring you into contact with likeminded people and provide a chance to practice language skills and learn about agriculture and the environment. You can browse the countries and projects available here.

Or (much to the chagrin of your parents) you could grab your passport and rucksack, book a one way flight and see what happens. So don’t stress if you haven’t applied to university this year; UCAS applications may be closed but your gap year options are still wide open.

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