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A life less ordinary

Date added: Saturday 23rd May 2015

Letter to The Daily Telegraph 14/5/2015 re article Gap Year Takers ‘Less Likely to Finish University’ by Gregory Walton.

Despite how its title might first be interpreted, your article ‘Gap Year Takers ‘Less Likely to Finish University’, does well to highlight the range of findings from studies on the benefits of taking a gap year. Year Out Group encourages gap year enquirers to consider the pros and cons of deferring university or entering full-time employment and to view the period as time out with a purpose.

For many young people a gap year is a well-planned and considered opportunity for personal development. For others it might be an enforced period of reflection on where to go next, or simply an opportunity to take a break from the stresses of education and great expectations. Many young adults will return with a greater sense of self and purpose. They will also return to a competitive job market and the focus they develop through a gap experience can help set them apart from other candidates. At interview, a demonstrable commitment to the organisation and its purpose will be the trump card for most employers.

The experience may also leave some participants to redefine earlier goals and perhaps choose another pathway to a fulfilling career. Those students who return with greater determination and ambition to follow a particular path do -as your article discloses- go on to perform better academically. Agreed, there are also others who decide University is no longer the best option for them.  They may prefer to enter the world of fulltime work sooner rather than later or to turn an idea inspired by their gap year, into reality.

Happily, charities, commercial and not for profit organisation are together engaging people from ever more diverse backgrounds not all of whom are on an academic path. And at different ages too, including families, career breakers and the retired. Rather than viewing a Gap experience as part of a bucket list or to tick a box on a CV, they view it as a stepping stone to the next chapter of their lives. It will be all the more fulfilling for it.

Today the range of experiences available to people, provides opportunities to work, study, train, explore and volunteer in the UK and overseas as part of a gap year, during university holidays or annual leave from employment.  The experience may include fundraising, organising events or managing your own PR, demonstrating maturity and motivation before you even leave the UK.

There are also increasing numbers of overseas applicants, in particular from the USA, who recognise the benefits of taking a gap year and value the experience and professionalism of providers here in the UK.  Year Out Group is working to ensure UK participants numbers opting to defer and take a gap year, reach and better pre-university tuition fee levels, as we feel exposure to the wider world at a young age is a real asset to the future of Britain.

Teachers, parents and students often ask me whether embarking on gap year style experience is worthwhile and likely to be looked upon favourably. To the latter I answer that University admissions tutors and employers consider the merits of taking a year on a case-by-case basis and that potential applicants should do their research before committing to a project. As for the former, I would say, yes of course, provided people take the time to consider not only the benefits to personal growth but the positive mark they hope to leave on the people and environments they encounter along the way.  As a result a once in a lifetime opportunity may transform itself into something much more lasting.

Stefan Wathan

CEO Year Out Group