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How to have the Ultimate Gap Year

Updated: May 5, 2020

By Daye Bajela

Need a break from education? Fancy a change of scene? Want to start ticking off that bucket list? Sounds like a gap year might be for you!

I decided to take a gap year after I applied to medical school. At first, I hadn't considered it, but the thought of going into another 5 years of education made me realise that maybe I needed a break. My gap year turned into one of the best and most memorable years of my life. I felt so much more prepared for university and adult life, and gained so much in terms of friendships, life experience and different perspectives of the world that we live in.

Here's my advice on how to plan and take the perfect gap year and how to make most of it.

1. Your A-levels are your priority. You need to make sure that you keep on top of your A level studies and don't get distracted by gap year planning. It can be time consuming and pretty exciting, but remember you still need your grades to get into uni after your gap year!

2. Decide what you want to get from your gap year. Do you want to save money? Do you want to travel? Do you want to learn new skills?

  • It's worth thinking about including different elements into your gap-year. You should definitely have fun on your gap year, but you should also come out of it having gained something. A year is a significant amount of time, so don't waste it!

  • For example, you could learn to drive, play a new instrument, or to properly master the art of cooking. You could volunteer, at home or abroad (but make sure you do your research, voluntourism can sometimes do more harm than good). Programs such as ICS are great for this.

  • If you want to travel, start thinking about destinations. Do you want to go somewhere far flung and exotic, for a real cross-cultural experience? Or maybe there's something you particularly want to experience, like a safari in the savannah or camel rides on desert sand dunes. Perhaps there's somewhere you've always wanted to visit, like the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef. Think about these things and plan your destinations accordingly! Interrailing around Europe is a great, cost effective and environmentally friendly way to visit many places in one trip!

  • To make the gap year a truly memorable experience, I would highly suggest going to places you wouldn't normally be able to visit. Explore the more 'off the beaten track' areas rather than just the usual tourist attractions. Lonely Planet and Culture Trip are two websites I would recommend for ideas of what to do and see (download the apps for when you're on the go), and videos on YouTube really bring these to life. Consider the best time of year to visit your destinations - you don't want to get stuck in the middle of monsoon season!

3. Start thinking about finances. How are you going to fund your gap year? Do you already have a part time job? If so, it might be a good idea to start setting some money aside for your gap year. If you don't have a job, consider taking up casual or part time work, but only if you can manage this on top of your studies.

  • During your gap year, think about how you want to earn money. Do you want to work full time, to maximize your earnings and gain experience? This is great, but remember to take time for leisure as well! Make sure you do a job that you enjoy, or you can easily become demotivated

  • Working as a healthcare assistant in a hospital or a care homes are great if you want to gain relevant caregiving experience, and definitely worth considering if you're reapplying. These roles often have many vacancies!

  • Working abroad is another option. There are loads of different opportunities, from summer camps in America, to ski seasons in the Alps, or nannying in Australia and teaching English in Asia, amongst countless others! When looking into these, consider if meals and accommodation are included, and think about living costs. It's always a good idea to make sure you have enough money, set aside to get back home at any time.

Things to Remember

  • Taking a gap year does not impact your chance of receiving an offer at all. You can apply to defer your place before and after you receive an offer. However, the earlier you do this the better, as this gives the university more time to accommodate your request and shows that you are well organised!

  • Things can change and the unexpected does happen, so keep your plans flexible for every eventuality and go with the flow!

  • NEVER travel without adequate travel insurance for the activities on your trip

  • If you're travelling, make sure you follow the advice of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Do ensure you have all of the immunisations you need for the places you're visiting. You can find more information about this on:

Making the Most of your Gap Year

  • Keep in touch with your friends! Go and visit them at their university, or wherever they may be. It can sometimes feel lonely when the people around you move away, so stay in contact and maintain those relationships!

  • Look after your mental health! Have fun and challenge yourself but know your limits and take time for self-care. If you struggle with your mental health, use your gap year as an opportunity to work on and improve it. Seek professional help if you need and form a strong support network around you. Remember, you're not alone!

  • Make a record of your experiences. Start writing a journal, or maybe try your hand at blogging or vlogging. Keep hold of keepsakes and create a scrapbook. Take LOADS of photos and videos. I'd recommend investing in an action camera such as a GoPro if you're travelling. Keep those social media followers jealous 😉.

  • BE SPONTANEOUS. These always turn into the funniest and most memorable moments. Get into the habit of saying YES (within reason, of course)!

  • Invest in a good neck pillow! After 58,000 miles of travel and 132 hours of flights on my gap year, I cannot stress enough how much of an asset they are 😂

  • You're going spend the next 40+ years gaining medical knowledge, so don’t waste this opportunity that you have. Fully embrace and enjoy your time out of education!

Your gap year shouldn't be "taking a year off” but taking a year on instead!

Happy gap yearing!

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