I did a talk recently at my old school on Gap Years - and this is what I said:
Advice on Gap Years
Gap Years aren’t really a year long – it starts the night of your last A level and finishes the night before your first day at university: that’s 15-16 months.
Check that the universities you are applying to approve of your deferral/time out – is it relevant and appropriate for the course you want to do?
Be careful about paying too much for a company like STA travel to organise it for you – take advice from other people without copying their exact route…try something new.
Do productive things like learning to cook, learning about art, learning basic computer and business skills – all of which you can use in later on in life.
Employers/universities want to see time well spent not months drifting.
Be different – don’t just go along with what your friends want to do.
Don’t be afraid to break away from your usual/same group of friends and venture off on your own.
Do what you want to do not what your parents want.
Don’t be afraid to try something new – you’ll never again have so much time out.
Make sure you are always trying to learn new stuff and not sitting in the comfort zone.
Try and do something really gritty at the start and then reward yourself later with your travels: I worked at a prep school in the middle of nowhere from Sept-Dec earning £85 a week (14 hours a day/5 days a week) when I knew everyone else was earning that much in a day…
Don’t expect your parents to pay for it – they may offer to contribute in some way but you will have a much more satisfying and rewarding time if you know you’ve worked and paid for it yourself.
If you live and work in London before you go travelling, be aware that its very expensive and you will risk spending a large proportion of the money that you are hoping to put towards travelling.
Try and do things that will be relevant towards your degree in someway – i.e. spend time in France/Spain/Italy/South America if you choose to study a French, Spanish or Italian at university.
Plan it all in advance – not the week before. Effective planning will ensure you can do as much as possible and not miss good opportunities.
Do things that you will want to talk about afterwards – because lots of people WILL ask you what you did and you don’t want to have any regrets or feel embarrassed that you weren’t productive or used the time wisely enough.
Don’t rely on your friends to do all the planning and research – explore ideas together.
Gap years aren’t just all about the travelling – think hard about where you might like to work – find somewhere that you will enjoy working.
Advantages of GAP Year
Gives you time to really work out what you want to do
Gives you the opportunity to learn new things and meet new people
Gives you the chance to maybe change your mind about going to university or what degree you want to do
Gives you a unique experience to add to your CV/UCAS form
Gives you a break and chance to recharge batteries after A levels
If you have the opportunity to have a gap year, do it. You may never get another chance. But be aware that it’s a long time to fill – and you must be occupied up to 90% of the time with productive and fulfilling things
Disadvantages of GAP Year
It’s a long time to be occupied
You may not suit the lack of routine that school provided – you are your own boss
You may find it hard to return to studying afterwards
What not to do on your gap year:
Do NOT just go to London, work for 4 months at Fornums, let your parents pay for your rent and all you expenses, then head off to Australia/New Zealand/Thailand/South America and expect to swan around on beaches, deserts or cities doing nothing productive.
Better option: roll up your sleeves and work in a different setting to what you might have always found comfortable. If you love riding - help out on ranches in America or with polo ponies in Argentina, love children - work in an orphanage in Zambia, love socialising with new people - work in a bar in Sydney, love skiing – learn to cook and be a chalet girl in Switzerland, love fashion – approach designers and fashion houses. A friend of mine walked up Sloane Street posting her CV through each letterbox and got a phone call the next day from Chanel who asked her to work for them…
It is highly likely that you will know people who have been to places that you might like to visit – don’t be afraid to ask their advice.
Don’t expect things to fall into place – there are bound to be glitches and changes to your plans. Keep all options open – you may like to spend longer than you thought in one place and shorter time in another. Have a plan B up your sleeve in case the place where you plan on working turn you away at the last minute – after all you are relying on them to help fund your travels.
If you are highly ambitious, don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to do everything on your wish list – your university summer holidays will be about 5 months long so you can do more travelling then!
Challenge yourself and enjoy it.