Taking a gap year before or after university can be an incredible experience but how could it affect your study prospects and future career? It all boils down to how you spend your time away.
From volunteering to doing a ski season, a year out can provide the adventure and discovery you crave, while furnishing you with the confidence and skills to give you a real-world edge. We did some digging to find out what universities and employers really think.
It pays to show ambition
The way you spend your gap year can say a lot about you. Are you an ambitious person who seeks out challenges and sucks up new experiences, or did you spend your year off catching-up on box-sets?
James Bates, a student doctor, took a year out and trained to become a ski instructor before starting his medical degree at Manchester. “Most doctors are ambitious types who understand the need to challenge yourself and achieve new goals, even if they’re not medical related,” James told us.
“The most important thing is to put your gap year to good use. A constructive year that challenges you can set you apart, and give you skills and experience that you can carry through to a job – like perseverance and putting yourself outside your comfort zone.”
Do your research
If you’re concerned how a gap year might affect your university applications, contact the universities directly and ask. In some cases, a year out could put you in a stronger position. The University of Edinburgh , for example, states that “competition for places is extremely high and applicants who apply during their year out with qualifications achieved, may be in a stronger position than those who apply for deferred entry with predicted grades.”
That may not be the case with all subjects though. While some Oxford and Cambridge colleges actively encourage gap years, admission consultants Oxbridge Admissions warns that: “with some of the ‘hard’, technical subjects (Maths, Physics, Medicine etc.) there is sometimes a fear amongst tutors that applicants will go ‘off the boil’ in their gap year as these subjects are harder to keep up to speed than some of the arts subjects.”
With this in mind, you may be asked to prove how you continued to develop your skills and subject knowledge during your year out. Depending on the subject, this could be anything from reading and research, to attending talks or tutoring younger students.
Building a portfolio of soft skills
A gap year is a great opportunity to build up a portfolio of soft skills. This allows you to approach employers already equipped with a practical understanding of things like teambuilding, negotiation and interpersonal skills.
One of the best ways to gain soft skills is through a structured gap year course or program like a ski or snowboard instructor course. When an employer or course leader verifies and evidences your skills, it holds far more weight than just giving your word.
For example, to achieve your CSIA level 2 ski instructor qualification, you have to train and qualify in key areas like decision making, goal setting, giving feedback and managing groups of people.
It goes without saying that these skills can be applied to almost any career. If you need it, any reputable ski course provider should be only too willing to provide references and further evidence of your experience.
If you’re uncertain about the skills that would benefit you most, then contact potential employers and ask, or try putting yourself in their shoes. According to the University of Nottingham’s Careers and Employability service: “In general, employers view taking a year out as a good thing as long as you can outline how the experience has benefited you and could benefit the employer.”
Making your gap year count
Whatever you decide to do in your gap year, it’s important to think about the impact it could have. The advice from employment website Monster.co.uk is to “keep an eye on what your gap year is going to say to a prospective employer. The life skills that a good gap year can show include initiative, communication and decision-making. If your gap year shows that you have these valuable skills, any employer will look very favourably upon you.”
To make sure you get as much out of your gap year as possible, it pays to make a plan. Former Nonstopper Jake managed to squeeze in several jobs, a ski instructor course in Banff and an inter-railing trip around Europe, all between school and university. Aside from the skills and experience he gained, there’s a lot to be said for his planning, budgeting and ambition alone. “Indeed, how you finance your gap year, or whether it is self-financing, also says something about you,” says Monster.co.uk
But it’s important to think about the personal benefits too. A gap year is also about having an amazing adventure, discovering what you want from life, and thinking about your future, as well as satisfying that travel itch before you settle-in to uni or a career. Here are 10 reasons to take a gap year.
Constructive gap years are approached positively by most universities and future employers, particularly if you’ve got a portfolio of proven skills to show for it. It’s a good idea to plan carefully, and consider doing a structured course or program, for at least part of the year.
A constructive year out could add weight to your job or uni applications, and even open new doors. With the right approach and planning, you’ll gain new skills, showcase your strengths, and stand out from the crowd, as well as having the time of your life.
If you’re concerned about your particular degree or field of work, contact universities or prospective employers directly and think about developing your knowledge through tutoring, reading, or by gaining work experience.
While gap year experiences are never going to be a substitute for good grades, a constructive year out could add weight to your job or uni applications, and even open new doors. With the right approach and planning, you’ll gain new skills, showcase your strengths, and stand out from the crowd, as well as having the time of your life.
We look forward to speaking with you.