I have recently exhibited at a number of Gap Fairs and found there to be a number of common questions and concerns amongst potential gap students. At the moment, only around 1 in every 5 students who consider a Gap Year actually go through with it. Having missed out on a Gap Year before university myself, I know the fears and concerns associated with taking a year out. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I would definitely change my decision now if I was able to take it again and would like to discuss my opinions about a few of the main issues in this article by answering broad questions.
1. I do not have enough money to take a Gap Year?
This is a common concern for almost every student, especially with student debt looming on the horizon. I still believe there is opportunity to travel though and go to university with some extra funds.
Recently, I heard a presentation from Phil Murray at Gap Advice who stuck me with one fact. How long is a Gap Year? We talk about a year out but the time out of education is actually 15 months. This provides a large amount of time to earn money, gain invaluable work experience as well as having the experience of a lifetime.
Example: A student could work for 12 months and earn around £ 12,000 if they worked hard. Lets say that after expenses and tax etc they have £ 6,000 left over. With still 3 months left, you could spend £ 3,000 on a volunteer project, very achievable, and still go to university with £ 3,000 more than you started with.
2. I will not go back to studying once I've had a year out?
This is a very valid concern and one I must say encouraged me not to take a gap year. I would like to say that with hindsight now, I feel I made a mistake though. This is a personal decision and each individual will feel differently about it.
I would not say it will not be hard going back to study after taking a year out. In my experience at university, the students who took a year out were completely behind in the first term of the first year. This however soon changed as they climbed up and by the end of the third year I found them to be way ahead. I believe this was due to 2 main reasons. Firstly, they had the opportunity to have a break from studying and refreshing for another 3 years at university. Secondly, they were that slightly more mature.
I certainly do not think a Gap Year is for everyone though. I will instead offer an alternative to a year out. Why not travel during the summer holidays between A-Levels and university and take a mini-gap. This is harder cost wise but offers you the opportunity to travel and gain excellent life experience and still go straight to university.
3. I do not know whether to travel independently or with an organization
There are benefits and disadvantages to both of these methods of traveling. I will focus on the benefits predominately rather than the disadvantages.
Should you undertake a volunteer project then you have the peace of mind that everything is organized for you with local support available. I would recommend this form of travel for Africa and South America since they lack the infrastructure to make independent travel easy. Just because you volunteer on an organized project does not mean you can not undertake any independent travel and the majority of organizations will allow time for independent travel. The huge benefit here is you can use their local knowledge to your advantage in planning excursions.
Independent travel is an excellent way to explore places that you want to see and avoid excursions that do not interest you. It does require much more organization but can provide more opportunity to see much more. I would recommend this type of travel for places like North America, Australia and Asia.
There are many other factors involved in taking a Gap Year and these are just a few of the main questions that I have encountered recently. I would be extremely happy to hear your opinions and provide any information I can.