IS A GAP YEAR A GOOD IDEA?
How useful a gap year is, and whether or not it is worthwhile, depends entirely on what your child is planning to do. Simply travelling around aimlessly is the same as staying at home doing nothing- neither looks good on a CV or personal statement. If your child chooses to do something that will give them new skills and experience, however, a gap year can be a great way to enrich their CV, and show that they have plenty to offer prospective employers or universities.
The first thing to do is to sit down with your child and analyse exactly what they are looking for from the gap year experience. There are plenty of reasons why young people might want to take time out of education, but the most common reason is feeling burnt out from intense studies. Since young people are under so much pressure nowadays with exam results, it’s easy for them to feel overburdened, and as a result not know exactly where they want to go next; instead, they just want to take a break from things.
TAKING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
Instead of pressuring your child to keep studying, it might be a good idea to think about how a gap year could help them personally, as well as making them look better to prospective universities.
As motivation speaker Mark .J. Lindquist says ‘Up until the age of eighteen you have lived your life under someone else’s rules. The lens through which you view the world has been shaped by the people that raised you’. You can watch the rest of his TED talk here, to find out more about why he advises taking a break from education for just a year.
Some other common reasons young people give for taking a gap year are:
- They want to enhance their C.V to increase employability
- To achieve personal growth and development
- To gain entry into a better university
Whatever the reason, it’s important to establish just why your child wants to take a gap year, and how it can be used to their advantage.
READY, STEADY, AIM
A good gap year needs to have aims and objectives, and ultimately to serve a specific purpose. Your child should define the purpose of the trip and what their goals are. For example:
- Gaining a PADI diving qualification (PADI)
- Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)
- Learning or improving a second language
- Undertaking some voluntary work
- Take a sporting gap year (Sport Lived)
There are few chances in life to take a year out of everyday living and explore ourselves and the world, so it only makes sense to make the most of this unique opportunity, and ensure that the gap year is well spent.
‘From the bigger picture to the smallest details; gap year planning made easy’ includes a comprehensive workbook that starts out with a detailed questionnaire, specifically designed to encourage your child to explore what type of person they are. This will allow them to establish their interests and what they want from their year out, both in the long term and the short term.
Going through this process will give your child the tools that they need to be able to plan a great itinerary around it. Universities will only see a gap year in a positive light if it is planned, structured and serves a specific purpose.
GAP YEAR SAFETY
As a parent, it’s only natural to be concerned with your child’s safety- and we are too. We want to ensure your child has the best possible time on their trip, while staying safe at the same time.
Taking a gap year isn’t necessarily dangerous in itself. The risks that they will be exposed to are the same ones that anyone faces every day in their hometown. What’s important is to plan ahead, to ensure that they aren’t exposed to anything overly dangerous.
Your child wouldn’t even think about walking through a dangerous part of town late at night, or risking taking the last tube home. These things are only common sense, and by applying the same rules while on their gap year, if to a greater degree, they’ll be able to stay safely out of harm’s way.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH AND THEN MORE RESEARCH
Prior research into the safety of potential destinations is essential. We can show your child how to do effective research in our planning system ‘From the bigger picture to the smallest details; gap year planning made easy’ by demonstrating the most important aspects that they should focus their research on.
“Effective research” means your child will be well-informed about the different cultural aspects of countries, allowing them to more easily avoid situations where they may unwittingly put themselves at risk. It will also deepen their cultural understanding and history of the places they visit, so that they can better appreciate what they are experiencing.
It is very easy to continuously monitor the countries that your child plans to travel to by visiting the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. You can sign up for email alerts which will inform you every time the FCO updates that particular country. They will update you about anything, not just when they don’t recommend travel. They will even tell you when the Pope is visiting!
STAY WISE, STAY SAFE
Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much research is done or how many precautions are taken- your child may still find themselves in a dangerous situation. In these circumstances, it is vitally important that they know how to protect themselves and get out of danger.
We go into this subject in great detail in ‘From the bigger picture to the smallest details; gap year planning made easy’, giving your child the same tools offered to aid workers and military personnel before they are deployed overseas. Small precautions go a long way to keeping out of harm’s way. We tell you all the insider tips that we use while on the road, so your child is well-prepared and knows how to behave and react if anything happens to them.
Managing finances while your child is away can be a big worry for parents. You’re probably wondering about such things as how much cash they should take with them, whether they should opt for a credit or debit card instead, and what currency they will need.
Each method of carrying money has its own pros and cons. Too much cash can make your child a tantalizing target for robbers, whereas cash machines might be few and far between abroad. Luckily, our guide will help you to make an informed decision about your child’s finances, as well as the best ways to make sure it lasts them long enough on their trip.
READY FOR ANYTHING
It is important to have systems in place that will cover all eventualities. Many people are still under the misconception that if they phone their bank before they travel to tell them they will be overseas then their card won’t be blocked. This just isn’t true. If the banks automated system detects unusual activity on a debit (or credit) card then it will be blocked whether your child told them first or not.
We advise that your child carries their money using a range of methods, this way they will be ready for any eventuality and never be caught short. They will always need a backup plan.
GET WITH THE TIMES
Unfortunately, lots of gap year websites are well out of date and still advise carrying traveller’s cheques- something most people will have last seen decades ago. While they can be replaced if lost or stolen, many places abroad no longer accept them, and they can carry exorbitant exchange rates- all in all, not something we would recommend.
LOAD, SPEND, TOP-UP REPEAT
The new traveller’s cheques are pre-paid travel cards. Your child pre-loads them with sterling, and the card can then be used abroad, in the same way you’d use a credit or debit card.
The card that we most recommend is Revolut, which is accepted in all MasterCard locations globally and offers the best exchange rates available. Your child will also be able to take money out at the ATM and Revolut currently supports 90 currencies. The other great thing about Revolut is that they guarantee that they will not charge any fees during the first 12 months of your child being a customer, so you can get away with paying nothing for the privilege of using this card on a gap year.
Another advantage of these cards is that you are able to top them up yourself so that you know your child has access to enough money while they are abroad. All you need is a Revolut account, and you’ll be able to transfer money over instantaneously. One thing to bear in mind is that you need to verify your account to upload more than £1000, so it’s a good idea to do this before your child leaves to avoid any headaches later.
One potential drawback is that Revolut is an app that requires iOS or Android to run. If your child won’t be travelling with such a device, they will have to look at other pre-paid card options.
SAVE MINDLESSLY, SPEND CONSCIOUSLY
Fundraising and budgeting might also be a big concern for you. The average gap year costs between £3000 and £4000, which is a lot of money for most of us. While a small minority of parents chose to partially or fully fund their child’s year out, the majority of gap years are self-funded.
If your child thinks they won’t be able to afford a gap year, they are probably wrong. Anyone can afford it if they are simply willing to work hard, and are savvy with their money.
Your child might already have some budgeting skills, but for many this is the perfect time to develop them. Confidence with managing money will be a great skill to possess for university, where this is a similar issue. Our comprehensive guide will help your child to budget for their gap year so they can afford to do what they want to do, as well as further information on carrying their money safely abroad.
HOW TO PLAN A GAP YEAR
At the planning stage, everything needs to be taken into consideration and prepared for, from big things such as travel plans, right down to the smallest details. Things like insurance, accommodation, flights, and equipment are just some of the things to sort out before your child leaves for their gap year.
Our guide contains an easy to use checklist that will help you to ensure everything is planned out well, and you’re not missing out on something that could become an issue later. With plenty of experience in gap year travel, we’ve organized our guide around the issues that we know matter most so that anyone can make sure their child is perfectly primed for their gap year.
TURN CAN’T INTO A CAN, AND DREAMS INTO PLANS
It is important to take a methodical approach and in order to do that you need to know how to plan a gap year well in advance. With so many things to think about, though, you might not know where to start and what to prioritize.
The guides, workbooks and detailed checklists in our guide will assist you and your child through the whole process; from the first steps of planning where to go, to finalizing flights and packing for their adventure. Your child might be surprised about how much they have to plan out, but they will have all the resources they need to do so.
ALWAYS SEEK KNOWLEDGE
We believe that no matter how independent or mature your child is (or think they are), their parents will have plenty of advice to offer during the planning process. The best way that you can help is to educate yourself about things like safety and money management tips, the countries they want to visit, and the reputations of potential projects they might work with.
We created our guide so that you can arm yourself with all the information you and your child will need, and you can see them off at the airport safe in the knowledge that they will be able to deal with anything that crops up. When it’s time for them to come home, we know that you’ll be incredibly proud of how much they have matured, and a big part of that will be thanks to the help you’ve given them in the planning stage.
HELP WITH PLANNING A GAP YEAR
You may feel that your child needs help planning a gap year and it is always good to have somebody involved who has the experience and know-how of organising such an adventure. Saying that where does your child get the advice and support? And for the matter where do you?
Worried parents and excited young adults find themselves trying to gather information from a whole multitude of websites on the internet. But if you are looking for comprehensive help with planning a gap year before committing financially to a professional gap year provider it just isn’t there.
In America they have gap year consultants but that is yet to catch on here, which is quite surprising seeing as the concept of a gap year was literally invented in the U.K. The great thing about our planning system ‘From the bigger picture to the smallest details; gap year planning made easy’ is that it is just like a consultant but without the hefty price tag.
IT’S BETTER TO WALK ALONE THEN WITH A CROWD GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
At G.A.P, we don’t think that it’s always necessary to take a gap year with a package company. It all depends on whether your child feels they are capable of planning a structured gap year on their own, and whether you think they’re mature enough to carry it out successfully.
In our guide, we’ve covered plenty of different avenues and options available to them, so that you can see the advantages of all approaches.
With this information, you’ll both be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to go with a provider. Your child may choose to go with a charity instead, or contact projects directly, potentially saving lots of money.
WHEN ONLY THE BEST WILL DO
We have made a list of the companies we have worked for, the best projects we have been involved with over the years and companies that have a good reputation within the industry. You will find links to their websites or instructions on how to contact them as well as a list of non-profits and charities offering placements abroad.
A great organisation to check out is the International Citizen Service (ICS). They are government funded and send volunteers to experience international development with projects that make a direct impact on reducing poverty. They also fund 90% of the costs.
DOES A GAP YEAR AFFECT A UNIVERSITY ADMISSION?
One of your biggest concerns you might have about your child taking a gap year before university is that they could lose their place, or that their time out won’t be looked upon favourably. Fortunately, most universities are happy for students to defer and take a year out as long as they gain relevant experience and enhance their existing skills.
On the other hand, universities won’t be impressed if a gap year lacks direction and doesn’t include planned activities and some kind of work or volunteer experience. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that you and your child work together to put their time to good use.
We recommend that your child speaks directly to their chosen university about their deferment policy. However, if you want to get a general idea about attitudes towards deferment, check out this article about ‘How do universities view gap years?’.
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE IS A LIFE OF PURPOSE
Taking a gap year before university can bring a whole host of great benefits. Students who have taken a structured, planned gap year often find that upon their return to education, they over-perform compared to their predicted results. Why is this? John Luria, Princeton’s Bridge Year Director says ‘’A lot of our students say when they enter as freshman that they have a greater sense of purpose in their studies’’
The University of London says ‘’Research shows that students who take a well-planned, structured year out are more likely to be satisfied with their choice of course and, even better, more likely to complete it.’’
Dr Alistair Hudson from Queen Marys Law Department says “we welcome students who apply with a gap year, although quite clearly an application is stronger if the student is doing something useful and interesting.” Dr Stephen Gilmour, from Mathematical Sciences, reinforces this: ‘’Taking a gap year doesn’t put students at a disadvantage, in fact, they tend to be more focused’’.
The University of Bristol released a statement through the applications department: ‘’If you are gaining vocational experience during your year away, highlight it during your personal statement as it is a really positive attribute to have during the application process.’’
As you can see, then, gap years are not only tolerated by universities but actively recommended as a way of easing your child into the independence of university life, while also helping them develop the skills needed to study successfully.
THE ONLY WAY IS UP
Here, one mother talks about her son’s university application: ‘’Over the course of the year, he decided to ditch his deferred uni place and went through clearing for a much more prestigious uni that he would never have got an offer for at the start of U6. He revised his application, and his more up to date personal statement was much better than the one he had done 2 years earlier’’ – eatyourveg, mumsnet forum
We asked ex-gappers whether they felt that their gap year increased their university prospects, to find out how it had helped them.
Claire Dobson from London says: ‘’Absolutely! I had work experience, travel experience, I learned how to prioritise my time and focus on what I wanted to do with my degree. I had the time to do the things that others hadn’t, and time to mature as a person too. It meant I could make the most of my degree and take more control over my life.’’. Claire is soon to go on to do a Ph.D. at the University of Oxford, so has taken her gap year experience and put it to excellent use!
Please take a look at ‘From the bigger picture to the smallest details; gap year planning made easy. It contains worksheets and detailed practical guides covering everything you and your child could possibly need to know, including money, safety, health, and much more.
“Gap Years: What Do Universities Think?” . N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.
“How Do Universities View Gap Years? – Which? University.” . Higher Education Liaison Officers Association (HELOA), 16 July 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.