How Time Out from Education May Be the Best Education of All

by Lalage

With exam results just around the corner, many students will be spending their time bouncing from a state of nervous excitement to pensive deliberation. One of the key decisions to be made is whether (having got the grades of course) to plough straight ahead and experience the joys of university or to take a year to see what the big bad world has to offer.

Opting out of going straight to university can be a pretty daunting decision. The fear that your chosen place of study could change their minds about wanting you can scare students into grabbing that initial offer without thought. Plus, there’s always the lingering dread that that your peers will all be moving on without you.

However, spending time away from the seemingly never-ending treadmill of education can have huge benefits both on your long term aspirations and job prospects, and on your short term sanity. If you’re worried about the prospect of pressing the pause button on your education, here are some answers to common gap year questions that should help assuage your fears.

Will I Lose My Place?

With university places at a premium, many students are concerned that taking a year out will somehow exclude them from going on to higher education when they return. As if you only have one shot of going to university directly after you’re a-level results come out, and after that it’s goodnight Vienna for your campus-dwelling opportunities.

In reality, Universities are usually very happy for their students to take some time off before starting their course, especially if it’s used to do something productive. Ideally, students should use the ‘Defer Entry’ box on their UCAS application when choosing a university, but it’s also acceptable to call your university once you’ve got your results to inform them you’d like to take a year out.

Will It Harm My Prospects

Absolutely not. Any company worth its salt will be able to see the benefit in employing someone who has spent time living in the ‘real world’ rather than the fairly cosseted world of academia. Again, it comes down to how you spend your time, and how you can relate your gap year to the job in question.

Most universities see those who’ve taken a gap year as more responsible than those who’ve gone straight from living at home and having their every whim catered for by mum and dad to setting off the fire alarm every time they try and cook a toastie in halls. Spending a year out either living and working abroad or on a placement or apprenticeship in the UK allows you to demonstrate practical experience in your chosen field, as well as the ability to manage your time, finances and relationships with colleagues.

What Should I do?

Well, the answer to this is whatever you want really! There are so many options for gap year students, and even staying at home and working in any available job to help ease the eventual student debt isn’t a bad idea.

However, you’re only young once, and this may be the last chance you get to truly explore the world before responsibilities like a job, mortgage, family and addiction to Celebrity Dancing on Ice With The Stars kick in. Travelling overseas and seeing countries and cultures hitherto only accessible in glossy brochures or travel websites is an opportunity not to be missed and can easily be used to demonstrate your skills to future employers.

Undertaking volunteer work abroad is a great way to get some real-world experience in areas you may wish to forge a career in, while getting right to the heart of a country’s culture and giving you that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping others. Whether you’re into marine biology, architecture, child psychology or sports science, there are volunteer placements that will give you a practical insight into your future profession, and help you stand out in the interview process when it comes to a new job. Having some amusing (but clean) anecdotes about your time away is also a great way of alleviating the boredom almost certainly felt by your interviewers during the process, a weapon in your arsenal that may just be the difference between your dream job, and the rest.

This post was written by Lalage

Lalage is a university graduate who is perfectly suited to weigh up the benefits of an education v's volunteer work abroad

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