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Should your students take a gap year?

A year in between school and university provides the opportunity to develop soft skills, get great work experience, and broaden horizons.

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Whether spent working locally or travelling the world, taking a gap year between A-Levels and university can appear an exciting prospect for students.  Gap years filled with well-chosen activities can be both enjoyable and offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who opt to take the plunge.

But does taking a gap-year benefit students when it comes to university and eventual employment?

Taking a risk?

With recent research by the International Currency Exchange revealing that many young people are shunning gap years due to financial concerns (49%), or worries about the impact on their career (22%), it is clear that gap years are far from the rite of passage that they once seemed. With the cost of university soaring, the days of taking a gap year simply for pleasure are in the past for many. However, by choosing wisely and making the most of opportunities, savvy student can aim to make a gap year work in their favour, both at university and beyond.

A step up

Taking a gap year can set students apart from the crowd when it comes to interviewing for a university place. “Most universities look at taking a gap year favourably, as long as the gap year is in some way linked to the course that is being applied for,” explains Pragya Agarwal, Tutor and Admissions Specialist. “This reflects well on the student in terms of passion and interest for the subject, and demonstrates initiative and self-motivation.”

Soft skills

With a recent survey by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award revealing that 93% of employers polled would be more likely to employ a candidate “who can demonstrate achievements beyond their curriculum studies,” it is clear that candidates who take advantage of the opportunity to develop valuable soft-skills may well have an advantage when it comes to applying for post-university positions. 

“Gap years can improve students’ communication skills and provide actual experience of … work and the challenges of working alongside people of different ages, cultures and environments,” explains Jackie Coventry, Managing Director of Baobab Sales Recruitment in Portsmouth.

Beatriz Bailey, Marketing Manager at recruitment specialist Huntress agrees that gap years can work in a candidate’s favour. “From a recruitment and employment perspective, I would say that taking a gap year is a good thing as long as it demonstrates something constructive,” she says. “Volunteering, doing charity work, working abroad, or something in which the candidate pushed themselves beyond their comfort zone.”

Relevant experience

As well as providing life experience and the challenge of working with others, some elect to use their gap year gaining experience in their chosen field – something that can be advantageous later on.

“One reason why taking a gap year may be good for your future career is to gain varied experience in the field you are looking to go into,” explains Coryn Sexton of recruitment firm Murry McIntosh. “Gaining experience is a great way of ensuring the career you are considering is definitely what you want to do and can give you an advantage going into your first job,” he agrees.

Choose wisely

Rather than leaping into the unknown, in this uncertain and competitive world, it seems sensible for students to consider the nature of their gap year, focusing on potential skills gained and advantages in terms of university and future employment. Travels to far-flung places, whilst exciting, may not provide the benefits that working closer to home may bring.

The skills students intend to develop on the gap years should be included in their university applications and CVs: “Gap years provide ammunition for stories and examples of learning, experience and the need to bring skills to bear during interview questions, so add snippets into a CV as a conversation trigger,” advises Coventry.

“Our advice to candidates would be to always focus on the transferrable tangible skills garnered from travelling or a gap year,” agrees Bailey. “Travelling alone demonstrates independence, working and earning money abroad shows drive. Always try to translate the gap year experience into skills that an employer would look for.”

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