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The Parents' Guide to Gap Years

Gap years do have a way of making even the most stoic parent pause. The thought of your child taking a year out from their study, their journey, their life, is a challenging concept for many. You may have the odd few parents who took a gap year themselves (or wished they had), but on the whole, gap years do have this rather exotic, ‘not quite for us’ feel about them.


What is a gap year?

First becoming popular in the 1960s with the baby boom generation wanting to shed the austerity of post war Britain and explore new cultures, the 70s saw the gap year industry evolve with organisations such as Operation Raleigh offering students structured travel opportunities and experiences. This was, however, mainly the preserve for those with means and the privilege of taking a year out of life. Pan forward 50 years and everything that has happened in the meantime, the internet and mobile phones now connecting us wherever we are, the dawn of tuition fees, and the trauma of a pandemic mean the world is a very different place!


So, should our perceptions about gap years have also changed and is the opportunity to take a year out before going University and beginning your professional life something that we should be encouraging our children to do?



Should my child take a gap year?

First, arguments for a gap year! Students come to gap years for all sorts of reasons.


Reasons to take a gap year:

  • To spread their wings and become more mature, confident, and independent.

  • For a well-earned mental break after the slog of GCSEs and A levels.

  • To apply to university without the stress of exams and with guaranteed grades under their belts.

  • To earn money.

  • To gain skills and experiences relevant to their next steps.

  • To gain skills and experiences irrelevant to their next steps but equally important to developing as a rounded individual.

All sounds great so, what ‘s not to like? Well, step forward the prosecution:


Reasons not to take a gap year:

  • A year out will make their brains grow idle.

  • It’s going to be difficult to re-engage with their studies at the level they need to be for university.

  • It’s going to be expensive (and you’ll probably end up footing the bill!).

  • A disorganised, unstructured gap year will not add anything to their progression.

  • They may end up never going to university and fulfilling their potential.

  • As a result, and the most chilling thought by far, they end up living at home forever!

OK, so how to answer the question ‘to Gap Year or not to Gap Year?’ Honestly, it all really boils down to the individual and that individual’s circumstances.

Who (probably) shouldn’t take a gap year?

If we are looking at someone who:

  1. has a very clear-cut idea of where they want to go

  2. is on track with their university offers

  3. is taking their A levels in their stride and are very much focused on their next steps

  4. …then why change a winning game?

Who should consider a gap year?

If, however, one of these aspects in not quite in kilter, it could be good reason to think on. Why?

  1. If your child has applied for a course but then is not 100% convinced it’s the right one for them, it can be an expensive mistake and often leads to students either dropping out or changing their course and having to reapply for the next academic year. Not ideal as they are then kicking around on a very unexpected and unplanned gap year.

  2. If your child doesn’t get their offers and pins their hopes on clearing or has their offer but with some ambitious grade requirements and doesn’t quite make them on results day, they are caught in the bun fight that is ‘clearing’. If they then don’t get onto the course they want, they may settle for second best just to go ‘somewhere’. With this, there’s an increased risk of point 1 above.

  3. Finally, this particular cohort of students has just completed the hardest 4 years of study of their lives. This is incredibly demanding on even the toughest. Add the backlash of Covid into the mix and it’s a cocktail for considerable mental and emotional strain. Going straight to university without the chance to press ‘Refresh’ could lead to burnout or underperformance when they get there.


In any of these circumstances, a planned and well organised a gap year could be the right move. There are many valuable options out there and there really is something for everyone.



What to do on a gap year

So, your child is taking a year out – the next question is, “What should I do on my gap year?” Great gap year ideas abound, but here are three of the most popular:

Gap year travel:

Travel is always a good option for those who are looking to take time to refresh, have new experiences and develop their independence. Tying travel in with personal growth can also be achieved, learning a language and gaining some work experience along the way. Just don’t forget your travel insurance!


Gap year jobs:

Work experience is a great option as you are getting paid, developing your personal and professional skills, and really getting a foothold on the professional ladder. For example, dedicated gap year programmes from companies such as Yipiyap provide high quality, paid work experience for school leavers working as academic tutors in local schools and colleges.


Gap year volunteering:

Volunteering can also be a personally rewarding and valuable way to spend time out. This can often be tied in with travel and future career plans and ticks many boxes. Or, for something closer to home, look online for volunteer opportunities near you – there are bound to be tons.



How to apply for uni after a gap year

Some students worry about whether they’ll lose momentum with university applications or their career after a gap year, but there’s really no reason to panic. Research shows that gap year students who have spent a well organised and productive year are typically:

  • more confident, independent, wordly and invigorated individuals.

  • have evolved skills in teamwork, leadership, communication and organisation.

  • have done something ‘different’ which will stand them and their CVs out from the crowd.

  • liked by universities and employers because they are more mature, motivated and bring more experience to the table. They are also statistically more likely to achieve a higher class in their degrees (Claggett R. (2013)

  • ready to take on their next steps.


How to plan a gap year

Gap years are never going to be everyone’s cup of tea but they are certainly not the abstract proposition of yesterday anymore and offer great advantages for a year spent productively.


There are many companies that specialise in helping individuals achieve exactly what they want from their year out and become the very best versions of themselves by the end of it. Oxford student Sam Kramer worked with Yipiyap on his gap year, and wrote about how it helped him to reapply to Oxbridge and get into his first choice university.



 

GUEST POST BY: Co-founder and COO of Yipiyap, Catherine Birkett




Catherine Birkett is the Co-Founder and COO of Yipiyap. Yipiyap has been instrumental in developing the peer tutoring sector for over a decade, working alongside gap year students to provide relatable peer tutors to schools and colleges across the UK.

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