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Parents & Advisors: Advising young people on well-structured programmes

Advising young people on the selection of well-structured year out programmes

A structured year long 'gap' or simply a few months or weeks, either before starting college, a job or during holiday period can give participants a valuable and challenging learning experience - provided that it is carefully planned. A well-structured year out is part of the lifelong education process and can make a significant contribution to an individual's personal development. Employers and university staff increasingly attach importance to evidence of enterprise, maturity and sustained commitment both within and outside formal education.

The wide variety of opportunities allows young people choice and flexibility in organising a rewarding year out designed to suit individual requirements and aspirations. Possibilities include cultural exchanges, educational courses and visits, expeditions, volunteer work and structured work experience amongst others. A successful year out might include several different components. Programmes can last from a few weeks to a full year. They can be in the UK or overseas. Organisations may involve a handful of young people or many hundreds.

Choosing the organisation and activity most suited to the individual takes some thought but it is crucial to the success of a placement.

Participants should research year out organisations carefully before a place is accepted and it is wise to start planning as far in advance as possible – in some cases particpants may need to register interest a year or more ahead of any start date.

Participants should also be aware of the commitment they are making - to host organisations and communities particularly. "Dropping out" of a placement or volunteer programme can be disruptive and disappointing as well as expensive.

Understanding the motivation for taking part-a 'gap' may not suit everyone- choosing wisely and reading cancellation policies are a good use of planning time.

Choosing an organisation and programme will depend on a wide range of individual factors but we suggest questions to ask of operators that will help you make a decision.

Inevitably, responses will vary from organisation to organisation and clear answers to many of the guideline questions will be contained in year out organisations published literature. However, appropriate use of the guidelines will help students and advisers to gather further information and to ensure that they choose well-structured programmes that are right for them – and, equally important, that they are right for the programme.