A gap year is a great way of getting a taste of the real world. Employers look favourably on gap years as a sign of independent thinking, self-motivation and are good subjects to bring up in interviews as a source of proven experience.
Before your course
A gap year prior to university enables you to take stock after the most intense years of education you have experienced. If you have applied for university and want to hold on to your place, you can normally defer for a year if you are accepted and that means you'll be able to step back into education on your return with a plan in place. It does not matter if you haven't, though, as you can apply during your gap year which can be a simpler task than in your final year of A Levels as you will know your UCAS points from the outset. This can lead to unconditional offers and bypass the need for an interview.
But gap years are not just the preserve of prospective university students. If you have no intention of entering higher education, you can still get involved before you embark on the world of work. All employers are keen to recruit people who are world-wise and have ambition - a gap year will only enhance your prospects.
During your course
Taking 12 months off from your course is not common, but that does not mean it cannot be done. Although it can be a requirement for some subjects, such as engineering or modern languages, it can be a personal decision as well. Do not feel you have to plough your way through your course before taking steps outside of education, a gap year can be self-motivated to expand, enhance or escape studying. Perhaps you want to have time to take stock of what you have learnt so far so you are especially clued up for the crucial last phase.
One method is to go on a work placement or series of placements that relate to your course and put skills to the test. This can be an ideal way to test drive jobs for when you finish, making contacts along the way. Alternatively, you could opt for charity or voluntary work which will be excellent for your CV and give you the chance to work with a wide range of people.
A gap year could also be a time to earn much needed cash, putting theory into practice or doing something you will never return to when you graduate. With top-up fees and rising living costs, there are even more reasons why students need to fit work into their hectic schedules, but a gap year working can be a great way to replenish low financial funds.
Travelling is another option – remember that when you start work you will only get four to five weeks holiday so if you have a burning passion to see the world, or at least a small part of it, now may be the time to act! Working abroad is the way to go if you might be able to afford a temporary life of leisure.
After your course
If you intend on getting a job after finishing your degree, then a gap year is normally used to do something radically different. This might be a year of travelling, or working in a stop-gap job before going travelling to save up some money first. Both are good ways of making the most of the freedom you are given at the end of your degree. Sometimes graduate recruitment schemes can look daunting when you are still studying, or you may miss their deadlines first time round, so you could always use a year out to apply for them while working elsewhere – perhaps at a charity or on voluntary work if not paid employment.
A lot of people enjoy their time in a university town or city so much that they decide to stay there with their friends for a year or more before moving off in different directions. This can be an excellent way of gaining independence surrounded by familiar faces rather than move to elsewhere for a job in a place where you do not know anyone. Who knows, you might find that you never leave!Lining up a postgraduate course after your undergraduate degree? Then it may be a wise move to not to launch yourself straight into it following initial graduation.
You could use your new qualification to get a job that will assist with your further studies, or simply to save up some money to pay for another foray into university life; or, again, it may be time to do that travelling you have been putting off for so long!
CareerPlayer talk to experts about how best to use your gap year: