Minding the Gap

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 12:00 AM

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘gap year’? Backpacking, getting lost in exotic places, dodgy stomachs? Although this is a popular cliché, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a year long holiday with cut off shorts and a party pack of Imodium in your hand luggage. There’s more to gap years than hiking or volunteering. It has been reported that on average, a gap year costs between £3000 and £4000 (source: Independent newspaper) so it can turn out to be an expensive option.

Some people have no choice but to take a gap year, as they may not meet the conditions of their offer or need to re-sit exams. If you're applying to a competitive course or were predicted lower grades than you hoped for, you may find yourself in a better position if you apply during your gap year once you have received your results, instead of applying for deferred entry with predicted grades.

If you know what university course you want to apply for, a gap year could be a great opportunity to strengthen your application. You could catch up on all that wider reading you never had time for, or take a MOOC (massive open online course) in your subject. You could even work towards another A-Level, as one of my friends is doing in her gap year. Anything that shows your enthusiasm for your chosen subject will be useful.

For some courses such as medicine and veterinary science, a gap year might be a useful time to undertake work experience in your chosen field, at a time of year when there are less people competing for spots. Whatever you plan to study, it’s a good idea to maintain your skills in your subject. This is particularly true for subjects such as mathematics and foreign languages.

This is backed up by advice from universities:

“In order to prove the best preparation for your studies, applicants holding offers for mathematics or languages degrees, who are taking a gap year, are strongly recommended to undertake work that maintains their mathematics or language skills during their year out.”   - University of Edinburgh

Taking a year out to learn a completely new language by moving abroad is also considered useful.  It allows people to completely immerse themselves in a new culture. This might just provide an ‘edge’ if you apply subsequently to university or when you enter the jobs market.

And what are employers’ opinions on the subject? “In a shrinking job market, when you have 300 applications for every place, some 100 of them will be stunning but few will stand out. Almost all will have first-class degrees. Those who have taken an interesting gap year will have had the opportunity to progress beyond merely achieving things. At interview they may well come across as personalities. They will have grown up.”   - Robert Hingley, a senior adviser to the investment bank Lazard

Keep that in mind as you pack your case. Bon voyage! 

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