What Will You Do with Your Gap Year? Coach Football in Ghana? Study Art History in Italy? with Such a Wealth of Ideas and Opportunities Available to Would-Be Gappers, the Only Limits Are in Your Own Mind, Says Kate Crockett EDUCATION 2004

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Byline: KATE CROCKETT

YOU don't need to have plotted your route and bought your around-the world ticket already to take a gap year. If you have secured your place at university for this September but have decided to take a year out after all, the good news is that you still can. Of the 60,000 people who took a gap year last year, almost half deferred their place at university on results day.

Universities are becoming increasingly used to this, and the admissions tutor at your chosen institution will be able to advise you on your options - but you must contact them immediately. If you are able to defer, you will want to start doing some research immediately. Do you want to work or travel, or both? Do you want to stay in the UK or go overseas? Is it a structured placement - like Prince William's expedition with Raleigh International - that you fancy, or would you prefer something more independent? "There aren't just three or four options - there are thousands," says Tom Griffiths, founder of GapYear.com.

There is no doubt that a year out can be beneficial, and many now choose to do so with the specific purpose of gaining work experience. Research shows that employers look to recruit graduates with "life skills" such as initiative, communication skills and decision-making, all of which can be developed during a year out of any kind.

"One of the first questions that employers will ask is, 'what did you do in your gap year?'," Griffiths explains. "Whenever they ask that, an employer can see character, confidence, decision-making skills, financial planning, achieving goals - mental, physical and financial - all those things. That is what looks fantastic on your CV."

The most popular backpacking destination is Australia, closely followed by New Zealand and the US. Last year, however, Europe was particularly popular, as young people opted to travel closer to home in the light of global events.

The more adventurous gappers opted for China and, according to Griffiths, South Korea is one of the up-and-coming places to go.

If you want to ease yourself into the gapyear experience, a structured placement could be right for you. You will have the comfort of knowing your work and accommodation are sorted out before you go and you can enjoy the experience without any administrative hassle.

The options for structured placements are endless, from teaching in Third World countries to conservation projects on coral reefs in the Caribbean, and may last a matter of weeks to a few months or more. Some of the popular opportunities to emerge are sports and personal-interest projects where, for example, you can go and coach football to children in Ghana, or study art history in Florence.

There is usually a fee for structured placements (plus your transport costs) but some organisers may provide bursaries.

GapYear.com operates the only live search engine to help last-minute gappers find unfilled structured placements, which is running throughout the summer (www.gapyear.com/clearing).

For overseas gappers, raising money for the trip is going to be a priority.

The good news is that a round-the-world ticket costs less than you might expect, at around [pounds sterling]850 to [pounds sterling]1,000.

Many work before they leave or work en route, and the US, Australia and New Zealand are popular and relatively straightforward working-holiday options.

Be disclipined while saving. It may sound obvious, but it's easy to get into the habit of working, earning and spending, and not save as much as you could. …