by Alice Baines
Think gap years are just for school leavers and time wasters? Think again!
Over 30% of the volunteers sent away last year by ‘The Leap’, one of the UK’s leading Gap Year organizations, were over the age of twenty. Be it a year off before submitting to the 9-5, a Summer gap between University terms or a few months career sabbatical, a gap year has opportunities and benefits for everyone and is proving an increasingly popular option for graduates. And the great news is that the range of projects and placements on offer is now bigger than ever, volunteering opportunities from managing luxurious Safari Camps in the Mara to teaching English to kids in the Amazon are yours for the taking. So, don’t follow the graduate crowd, meandering like lost sheep from one aimless temp job to the next…test your skills, use your brain and experience a once in a lifetime opportunity that will benefit your life and career forever!
Let’s face it, University (as much as we like to pretend otherwise) is bloody hard work. At least three years of gruelling mental exercise, high pressure late night essay writing all topped of with a tasty helping of last minute panic, anxiety and stress! Yes we had the time of our lives, but the last thing we want to think about as we walk triumphantly from the exam hall is the mountain of job application forms awaiting us at home. There has to be more to graduation than nagging parents and student overdrafts. If there’s ever a time in ones life that a holiday is earned then it’s post University. The notion of going straight from the lecture theatre to the graduate job is outmoded and doesn’t suit the development needs and interests of today’s University leavers. More importantly, it doesn’t generate the motivated, skilled and experienced job applicants that graduate employers are looking to recruit. There has to be another way. I believe the answer lies in a gap year.
There has been much debate in the media recently as to why graduates are not matching the standards and expectations of employers. Some of this country’s biggest and most influential graduate recruiters such as Price Waterhouse Coopers and Gold and Sachs have complained that new recruits don’t have the practical skills, life experience or right attitude to learning excel in business. They suggest that the fault lies with degrees and teaching styles at Universities not adequately preparing students for the world of work. In response, educators are expanding methods of learning and assessment to match employers needs and are also introducing accredited modules in interview, computing and public speaking skills to name but a few. But isn’t it time for individuals to take responsibility for their skills base and work experience- rather than blaming a faceless system for churning out unsuitable applicants, graduates and students need to do more to prepare their CV and take control of their futures.
In a competitive market where thousands of people with the same degree classification are applying for limited job opportunities how can a graduate make sure their CV stands out? Taking a structured gap year, which develops and showcases your abilities is a practical and exciting way to achieve what every graduate employer craves- an application form that shines with experience and motivation. Best of all, having completed three months volunteer work in the wilds of Africa or rain forests of Costa Rica you will have something extra ordinary to talk about at interview. Show interviewers you’ve got what it takes to organize, fund raise and work your way through a gap year- giving something back to those less fortunate and you’ll make a lasting impression they wont forget in a hurry. Don’t just talk about soft skills you have, demonstrate them by taking a gap year.
For many, a gap year after University has the additional benefit of allowing time away from home and education to reassess your long-term goals. So many of us leave our studies with next to no idea of what we want to do in life, feeling daunted about the future and overwhelmed by the changes taking place around us. A year out gives the opportunity to take a step back, discover something new and even experiment with career prospects. Combining work experience in industries that interest you with adventurous travel and worthwhile volunteer projects allows you to do this and, as mentioned will enhance your chance of landing your dream job when you finally work out what it is!
Finally and most importantly, I would like to advise those among you who are put off the idea of a gap year post university by the financial burden of Student loans and the grumblings of parents desperate to see the returns of their life long investment, don’t be. A well planned year off can be totally self funded with just a few months of paid work, it needn’t leave you in debt and could actually improve your earning potential by the benefits it gives to your employability. Although you may feel shackled by debt and responsibility right now, this is may be the last period in your life where you have freedom from jobs, contracts, mortgages and childcare and are able to have a gap experience. Whether it’s a gap year or just a few months, now is the time to act…and with so many great volunteer opportunities for graduates, it’s clearly time to call The Leap!
Alice Baines is a recent university graduate with a degree in English Literature and African studies, her passion for overseas adventure travel is infectious. When she graduated from university she was looking for graduate jobs based in the travel industry. She now works with The Leap as an Overseas Placement Manager.