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Is a Gap Year the right choice for you?

12 August, 2015George Browne

As the A-level results day looms, lots of young people around the UK will be thinking about what the future may hold. Those getting their results this year may be trying to decide whether they will try to find a last-minute Uni place for this September through clearing, while those getting AS results will be thinking about whether to go straight from school to university. For both groups, the alternative could be to take a year out.

In recent weeks Gap Years have hit the headlines, as they often do at this time of year. First, Sandie Okoro, global lead lawyer for HSBC Global Asset Management, speaking at the Girls’ Day School Trust conference, said that young people are better off getting “old fashioned Saturday jobs” than taking a gap year to go travelling and do charity work. Then the news broke that a group of British gap year students had outraged locals by cavorting around a Malaysian mountain-top in the altogether.

These two stories have combined to reignite a debate over what is the right path to take once the stress of A-levels has passed. The arguments on both sides are fairly well worn, but these two stories have raised the question of whether the conclusions are the same today as they used to be.

Gap Yah?

Predictably the British media have had a field day over the actions of the students in Malaysia, with some outraged columnists condemning the boorish behaviour and comparing those involved unfavourably with the “Gap Yah” YouTube videos which were a viral hit in 2010, and others defending the right of affluent young Brits cut loose and behave badly before the serious business of getting a job or a degree hits home.

A recent report on social mobility published by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission revealed that in the law, accountancy and finance sectors, 70% of jobs offered by the firms involved in the study were offered to applicants from private or selective schools. Amid the reasons cited for this bias is that recruiters use criteria such as how much someone has travelled to differentiate between students with similar grades. Leaving the fairness (or otherwise) of this tactic to one side, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that seeing a bit of the world and experiencing other cultures can stand candidates in good stead, especially in globalised industries and when applying to multi-national companies.

Having said this, it is important to make sure that if you do decide to head overseas, that its not just one long round of hedonistic abandon. By all means do a little backpacking, but it’s a good idea to try to do something constructive as well. This doesn’t need to take be the cliché of working in an orphanage – you could do some seasonal work as a fruit picker, teach English as a foreign language, or even learn a language yourself.

Gain experiences that will stand you in good stead

Of course, travelling and volunteering can be an expensive business, and as Sandie Okoro points out, it is important that those taking a gap year do more than simply take advantage of the Bank of Mum and Dad: “I see all these wonderful places, they’ve gone off to China and built an orphanage, they’ve done this and done that. OK, so you’re daddy is rich. That’s great. But when have you worked at JD Sports at the weekend to earn some money? When have you dealt with the public? […] Actually, spending a year working at JD Sports and maybe moving up to supervisor is just as significant and should be valued.”

It is certainly true that getting a job can really help, whether that is in terms of strengthening your CV or in providing the chance to save up a bit of extra cash for Uni. Your correspondent, for what it is worth, spent the summer after A-levels driving tractors on a farm, the autumn working in a restaurant, the spring learning Italian in Florence, June doing conservation work in Africa, and the rest of summer working on the farm in the day and a pub in the evenings. I arrived at University with a healthy bank balance, lots of great experiences and some good CV fodder too.

Some may consider that a gap year is an indicator of someone who would be more at home on the set of Made in Chelsea than the set of TOWIE, or the marker of someone who spent the last 12 months drinking in a variety of tropical settings and states of undress, but careful planning can make a gap year an asset and help you to stand out from the crowd. As long as you can avoid causing a major diplomatic incident or an earthquake, and if you do something that really shows drive, ambition and commitment, a gap year is sure to be a great experience.

If, on the other hand, you feel that it would be better to get right on with things, why not give our Clearing team a call, and find out whether you could be taking the first steps on the path to a career in banking.

Call our Clearing hotline on 0207 337 6293 or 0207 337 6294