Published on February 27, 2013 | by Rowan Curtis0
Boost your CV, take a gap yearTaking a break from life before enjoying the demands of university used to be a desirable option for many prospective students.
Lengthy trips to far-flung lands, finding new places, meeting new people and discovering self identity, before heading back to reality, the working world and the challenges that it brings.
It all seems like the perfect step before finally growing up, but increased tuition fees and an unsteady job market have made the much-desired gap year an impossible dream for many young people on the cusp of adulthood.
Internet spoofs like Gap Yah by the comedy troop The Unexpected Items perhaps highlight the growing opinion that such trips can now only be enjoyed by the very fortunate and wealthy.
In the sketch, an upper class student named Orlando boasts about his experiences “chundering” in Africa while connecting with locals on a spiritual level.
The clip gained a large following and more than four million hits on YouTube, with many commenting that the comic stereotypes portrayed were grimly realistic.
But is there any hope left for poorer students looking to jet off to foreign climates, or has the affordable gap year truly had its day?
In 2011, the number of prospective students taking gap years dropped drastically in response to the rise in tuition fees.
It resulted in just 6,000 young people deferring from university offers, down from an average of 20,000 in previous years.
It was even reported that some universities had taken to telephoning those who were planning on gap years to check that they fully understood the implications of the fee changes.
The debt most students now face is around £56,000, a drastic rise from the estimated £27,000 that graduates had to pay before the controversial government reforms.
It is hardly surprising that character building trips to the Andes and other sought-after destinations have been put on the backburner, as more and more choose to study and gain work experience at home.
Stuart Rees Jones, founder of gap year company Camps said: “If students don’t do a gap year there’s a risk they’ll have little to offer but a string of academic qualifications. What employers want are individuals.”
Despite the imposing prospect of loan repayments that face aspiring student globetrotters, some choose to go ahead with their plans using various money-saving techniques that could ease the burden.
Volunteering is one way of making the gap year not only worthwhile but frugal too with some schemes offering placements across the world in war-torn and poverty stricken or post-war countries, providing cheap accommodation and food.
Helping out the less fortunate can also be an attractive option for anyone looking to bolster their CV once they arrive back in Britain to look for the important post-university job.
“It was the most eye-opening three months of my life” Olivia McAlpine
Olivia McAlpine, 27, studied History of Modern Art at Northumbria University before taking a short break in Kenya volunteering at a local nursery.
“It was the most eye-opening three months of my life and taught me some invaluable lessons that I hope I still apply in my everyday goings on,” she said.
“From a professional point of view, I believe that having something like this on your CV can set you apart from the crowd, and I have always been asked about my experience in job interviews.
I have found that it gives you the chance to show the skills and life lessons that you have learnt which are inevitably reflected in your day-to-day work and general outlook and approach to life,” she added.
Earn whilst you travel
There are also plenty of opportunities to make money while abroad, with many students choosing to find jobs that demonstrate and improve the skills they have learned in education.
Teaching English has become a popular source of income for Brits travelling around the world and can provide valuable qualifications to those who partake.
Scouring the internet for cheap deals is also advisable for those on a shoe-string budget, as former student Frankie Dennis, 25, found out before travelling to New Zealand.
“I was going to study Fine Art at the University of Kent, before I planned my gap year.
I’d been working in a boring call centre job in my home town and I wanted a break before going back into education.
Budgeting was something I was concerned about as I didn’t want to start my new course relying entirely on my student loan,” he said.
“Before I left, I checked out different websites like TripAdvisor to try and find all the cheapest accommodation and cheapest ways to travel.
“I didn’t mind about staying in a decaying old pit of a hostel as I’d be spending most of my time outdoors anyway. After meeting new friends out there working at a bar I managed to stay rent free for a while on different people’s sofas.”
Taking a gap year can also prove to be a reflective time, as Frankie found out. “My time out there gave me a chance to think about my future and I realised I didn’t want to go back into education after all, and that working appealed much more to me,” he explained.
So perhaps there is still room for the gap year in today’s economic climate.
The benefits of enhancing one’s life experiences and taking valuable time to consider the future are clear and it seems prospective students are taking new measures to fund their trips.
Teaching others and volunteering in community projects could well be the way to achieve an affordable gap year, and a noble alternative to just “chundering” all over the developing world.