Not quite got the results you were hoping for? Or have you surpassed all your expectations? Maybe now you are considering taking a year out to reapply to university next year and find yourself with a completely unexpected and unplanned gap year on your hands.
If that is the case, don’t panic! A well planned and organised gap year can be the making of a person, and may well become the best thing that ever happened to you. But this won’t happen on its own, so here are a few tips to help get you started.
A gap year is more of a “gap 14 months”, we’re in August now and your university term may not start until October next year. So first things first, don’t rush things. Take the time to think about your options, what you would like to achieve in the next year, as well as what you NEED to achieve.
The following are a few things you may want to include in your gap year plans
Retakes and UCAS applications
Getting some money together
Doing something to improve your CV
Taking a break to recharge your batteries for your degree course
Learn a new skill
Travel and see some of the world
Do something for others – volunteering or fundraising
Research new careers – find out what jobs exist out there
This list is by no means exhaustive but it may help give you a few ideas. Also, some of the things you do in your gap year may end up fulfilling more than one of the above objectives, so don’t just look at each point individually.
So, looking at each point in more detail:
Retakes and UCAS applications – If you are applying through UCAS, work out how long you need to set aside to complete your application, and make sure you have that time planned in your year. Most of us, when we have an application to fill in, will take as much time as we have over it – if we have a month we will take a month, if we have 20 minutes, likewise! Don’t let it drag out too long, but don’t rush it either. If you are applying for the first time, make sure you understand in advance what information they need, so you are not scrabbling around for it at the last minute.
Some universities will want to invite you for interview, others perhaps not. Find out when they are likely to invite you for interview, you don’t want to have planned a trip to Thailand, only to find out you’re needed in Bristol. Likewise for any retakes you have.
It’s important to get this right, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you do in your gap year.
Getting some money together – Almost everyone at uni talks about student debt, your gap year is the perfect chance to get a head start with your saving. Whether it’s a bar job, shelf stacking or helping in the family business, every little helps (and remember, when you’re working, you’re not spending!). Of course, if you can find paid work which is relevant to your degree or future career, all the better.
Temping agencies are the obvious way to try and find work, but everyone who is looking for work will have done that. Try to think of different ways of getting yourself out there – have you got a particular talent you can offer a local company? Will your school take you on for something? Any festivals close to home which you can work at??? The more varied you make it, the more interesting it will be for you.
Improving your CV – This can take on a variety of forms, but it is definitely worth trying to include it in your gap year, as universities AND employers are likely put a lot of importance on this.
If you can’t get paid work relevant to your career, consider applying for a temporary unpaid internship. Plenty of companies out there are keen to make use of an extra pair of enthusiastic hands, and even though you may not be getting paid for it, the experience you gain from it may make all the difference in a job application in the future.
Likewise, volunteering and travel can be a huge boost to your CV and experience. Make sure you do your research though, and with any potential placement or travel plan, ask yourself the question “how will this benefit me in the future”. This is exactly what a university or careers interviewer will want to know.
Take a break! – You’ve worked hard for your exams (haven’t you???) and you’ve got several years of university study ahead of you. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a break and just getting away from it all for a while. This could be a ski season, a fortnight diving in Egypt or just a weekend in Bognor, the important thing is to take the time out, so when you do go back to study, you are ready for it.
Learn a new skill – Ever wanted to be a top chef? Or perhaps it’s worth doing a silver service course so you have guaranteed work every uni holiday. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play the harp! Gaining new skills is always a useful thing to do, no matter how obscure they are. They may be practical, interesting or money making, in any case, they will also add worth to your gap year as far as employers and admissions tutors are concerned.
Travel the world – This has almost become a rite of passage for many people on their gap year. It’s a great opportunity to see the world and experience different realities, but because almost everyone is doing it now, it may not be enough to just go “travelling”. Consider doing a course while you are overseas, or get a job, or apply to do some volunteering. There are a lot of options out there, but it is important that your travel plans aren’t seen as purely bumming round the world.
If you are considering volunteering, it’s important to do your research. There are a lot of great volunteer placements out there, but there are also a lot which aren’t all that worthwhile. You don’t want to spend all that money and travel all that distance to find out that you are not really needed, or that hardly any of the money you have paid is actually going to support the project. A good resource to help you research this is http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org/
Do something for others – This can be overseas or here in the UK. Volunteering and fundraising is something which is hopefully going to help the project you are supporting, but will also be a hugely beneficial experience for you. If you do plan to do some volunteering in your gap year, try to find something which will be a positive experience both for you and the project you are supporting. Again, http://www.ethicalvolunteering.org/has a good list of questions you can ask any organisation about their projects to help you research your options.
Some volunteering can be challenging, doing something far removed from anything you’ve done before. This is a good thing, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is no bad thing, it really shows you what you are capable of.
Researching new careers – Most of us know the jobs our parents, neighbours and friends do, but there are literally thousands of different types of job out there. Every new opportunity you find yourself in, ask people what they do and how they got there, who knows what might inspire you!
So if you’ve got this far, it’s time to make a plan. Work out which of the above things you would like to achieve (and add to them as well) and try to fit it into a realistic plan for the year. Timing, budget and other commitments will all come into play, this is why it’s important to put out an outline of a plan at the very least.
Take it month by month, week by week, term by term, whatever works best for you. This year will fly by no matter what you do so you want to make the most out of it before it passes you by.
Although planning is important, things are always likely to change so it’s just as important to stay flexible. You may not know exactly what job you’re going to get, university interviews might not be confirmed for a few months and who knows what else may come up. This is where your plan of what you want to get out of your gap year will come in useful though, any new opportunity which comes up, you can look at it with your criteria in mind, and decide whether it’s a good idea or not.
Whether you wanted to have a gap year or not, you’ve got one, and there will be ups and downs throughout the year, just like any other year. Remember that this is an incredible opportunity, one that will make you stronger, wiser and better prepared to take on the world. If things are hard, don’t give up at the first hurdle, we all know the greatest satisfaction comes from pushing ourselves. At the same time though, don’t be afraid to step away from something if you are convinced that it isn’t for you after all. It was a surprise turn of events which put you in this situation in the first place, so change can be a good thing.
Although it is important to think about uni applications, CV enhancing, job prospects, money saving, retakes and who knows what other serious issues, it is just as important to make sure you enjoy your gap year. Have fun with your friends, realise that your younger brothers and sisters aren’t as unbearable as you used to think, fill up your Facebook profile with endless stories and photos which will make all your friends already at uni green with envy – you know they would do the same!
Here are Quest Overseas we are more than happy to give anyone advice on their gap year planning. We realise that our expeditions aren’t necessarily for everyone, so whether you are considering applying to join one of our teams or not, feel free to contact us with any questions.