Parents Guide: Have an Adventure - It's the Mature Option ; Universities, Colleges and Employers Are Increasingly Keen on Students Taking out Gap Years before They Embark on Their Course, Writes Mary Novakovich
Novakovich, Mary, The Independent (London, England)
There is no mistaking that huge sigh of relief and exhaustion from A-level students at the end of a stressful two years. But the pressure doesn't stop there as the agonising wait for news of a place at university casts a pall over the summer months. Is there no end to this academic treadmill?
The idea of taking a year out between A-levels and a degree was once relatively rare, but now about 200,000 British students every year decide they want a constructive break before they have to dig out the books again. It's hardly surprising; today's children of baby-boomer parents must have heard enough stories of exotic travels back in the freewheeling Sixties and Seventies. There's no reason why mum and dad should have all the adventures.
The idea of a gap year is also being actively encouraged by the Department for Education and Employment, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and universities and colleges themselves. Students who take a year out are now seen as better bets by admissions tutors, as they have an extra year under their belt during which they have grown up more and are ready to take responsibility for themselves. And a survey of the biggest graduate recruiters set up by Community Service Volunteers - one of the largest gap year organisers in Britain - showed that these employers find graduates are lacking some of the key skills required by the job market: skills that can be developed by working during a year out.
With the rise in popularity, a whole industry has sprung up around finding gap-year students something fascinating, instructive, worthy, or even just fun things to do. Indeed, the choice of activities can be dizzying. If a student is looking for something more than a combination of working to save up for a backpacking trip, there are many groups that organise conservation projects at home and around the world, teaching abroad, cultural exchanges, language schools, business placements and even theatre skills in Stratford-upon-Avon. And if students choose to go independently, there really is no limit as to how they can spend those 15 months.
Khalid Abdalla, 19, of south-west London knew during his A- levels that he wanted a year off before taking up a place to read English at Cambridge University. Rather than go with a gap-year organisation, he used family contacts to get a work experience placement on an English-language newspaper in Cairo. After proving his ability, he was offered a salary. "It was the first time that the focus of my life was outside academia," he says, "although it kept me writing in some way or another. As my family is Egyptian I'd been there before, but it was the first time I'd been away from home for that length of time. …