This time twelve months ago I was a college student torpedoing my way in to my final A Level exams having missed out on the chance of getting in to my University of choice. Results day came and I had the grades but nowhere to go, so rather than settle for second best through clearing, I decided I would give it another shot by reapplying. The only downside was that this meant taking a year out that I’d never anticipated.
As students we find ourselves at crossroads like these for a whole variety of reasons. There’s always those us who have long been adamant on taking a gap year, and it’s usually this group that has it planned out. Some of us are taken ill and can’t carry on in to education or work. Many of us simply have no idea of what we want to do once the safety net of studying at college or for a degree is stripped away.
As much as we can jest that a year out to indulge Netflix and free meals from your parents’ couch sounds nothing short of ideal, finding things to fill an empty 365 days with is daunting. Believe me, there’s only so much ‘me time’ you can withstand before you find yourself questioning your sanity. The reality of an unplanned gap year is that it can feel like you’re drifting aimlessly and everybody has left you behind, but it doesn’t have to be this way. So what can you do to fill it? Here’s a few tried and tested solutions to point you in the right direction…
GET YOUR RUCKSACK ON
The one way that’s guaranteed to turn your year at home in to a true ‘Gap Yah’. What better time is there to get dream locations ticked off your bucket list than when you aren’t tied down? Many companies specialise in package deals that sort all the country-hopping arrangements out for you for any length of time – STAtravel, Frontier and Oyster to name but a few. Depending on your trip duration and location, these can often tie travelling in with meeting new people, volunteering and part time work.
Consider au pair placements if you want to seriously throw yourself in to a foreign culture. If you fancy a little more independence then an interrailing pass is well worth considering. This allows you to take to the trains and drift around Europe, stopping off in social hostels or high class hotels depending upon your taste and budget. They’re an easy purchase to make from the interrailing website and can be bought up to three months in advance of your trip. If you find that it’s beyond your means to get abroad then you can always take to the British roads and go visiting friends who’ve moved away to University – if your luck’s in, it may well mean free accommodation and a decent night out.
BOOST YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
For those of you facing the beginning of student debt once your gap year is done with, an excessive amount of time off is the perfect opportunity to make a bit of cash. As opposed to that classic dash that students have every summer to throw CV’s through every open letter box, you’ll find the recruitment process a whole lot easier when you have flexibility to offer potential employers. Having plenty of availability in your diary and no exams to take time off for, you’re not restricted to what shifts you can be available for, so if you’ve always wanted to work nocturnally as a night club rep, or bust a gut taking on numerous shifts on a zero hours contract then what better time than this?
As alternatives to going in to University education are becoming increasingly popular, so are the availability of short term apprenticeships and internships, which can be an effective way to gain experience in a suitable sector within a year and often come out with a qualification at the end of it. Popular choices for those who want to couple new experiences include flying out to complete a season at ski resort, as well as Camp America and the lesser known Camp Europe which allow you travel time either before or after getting stuck into long days as a counsellor. Whether the job you take is relevant to your long term career ambitions or a far cry from your dreams, it’s all added life experience and financial support in the future.
Sadly, another year with Mum and Dad doesn’t offer much in the way of societies or mates just down the hallway, even though it might mean one more year of really good meals. You want to feel like you’ve done something productive with your year beyond successfully spotting every continuity error in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films combined. They might not be as well advertised or easy to get to as those at University, but teams, clubs and gyms still exist for you to find a new hobby and some new pals. Take the time out of education to learn some skills that you’ll one day be grateful for, like how to cook things grander than a pot noodle, or learn some new lingo if you’re inclined to go abroad.
Another contender for your spare time is voluntary work, whether in your local community or further afield. Whatever manner of volunteering it may be there are only benefits to be reaped from developing your inner philanthropist - stretching from your outlook on life, your relationships with the people around you and (let’s not deny it) how impressive you look on paper. I’ve already touched on companies that offer travel packages combined with charity work but these can still cost a packet that goes straight to the providers. Unknown to a surprising number of people, there is the government/donation funded International Citizen Service that is open to anybody aged 18-25. This involves 10-12 week placements of aid work abroad, followed by participants transferring these skills to help causes closer to home in the long run. The estimated cost of sending a participant abroad would be around £8000, but the only requirement is the fundraise £800 beforehand which provides 10% of the budget for seeing others through ICS in the future.
Whatever the circumstances of your wild year out, just remember – you don’t have to go crazy to get the most you can out of it, but make sure you have a plan!