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How To Spend Your Gap Year - COVID Style

Deferring your university place this year? You’re not alone.

Due to ongoing uncertainties with COVID-19 and exam results, across the UK students are choosing to take a gap year before university, with some universities such as Durham University even encouraging it and offering a financial incentive. With the situation constantly changing it’s likely that a traditional gap year is out of the question at the moment, but there are still plenty of things you can do on your year out.

Work Experience and Internships

Spending a year undertaking internships and work experience placements is a great way to get your foot in the door in your chosen industry. Work experience placements and internships offer insight into the industry and can help you decide if the career path is for you, this is especially helpful if you’re applying for apprenticeships / university courses if you discover you it’s not the right path for you it’s better to find out sooner rather than later to save yourself the stress and student debt. Work placements help develop lots of work-specific skills and real-world experience that will enhance your CV. You also get the opportunity to network - you never know when a contact will come in handy in the future!

Internships are more formal than work experience placements and involve a formal application process. Find out about the employment rights and pay for interns here. You can find internships on Indeed and Internwise, you can also find them on company’s hiring pages.

Work experience placements are more ad hoc and tend to be unpaid or just paid expenses (travel and food). You can find work experience through companies’ websites or by finding their contact details and sending a speculative email along with your CV.

If you’re struggling to find a placement you can enhance your CV through extra curricular activities and taking classes/developing skills yourself. For example, if you’re looking for a role in marketing or PR a key skill required is copywriting - by starting your own blog or by writing for websites (we’re always looking for student writers!) you can develop your writing skills and create an online portfolio.

COVID-19 Impact

Due to government restrictions some work experience placements and internships can’t go ahead, companies do not want to bring outsiders into the office for short amounts of time. Managing those on work experience/interns is a lot harder virtually, so there may be less placements available, with an increased number of applicants fighting for the fewer places - if this is the case in your industry make sure your CV stands out.

Travel and creative industries have been hit hard by coronavirus so the number of placements may have dried up due to funding difficulties. If the companies you’re interested in are not advertising it’s worth sending a speculative email outlining why you’d be the perfect candidate and what you can bring to the table. People working in creative industries like marketing and advertising can work from the safety of home so you may be able to get a placement working virtually. As industries such as medicine and veterinary require in-person placements they may be placed on hold indefinitely in line with government guidance.

As the situation continues to unfold and restrictions are lifted more companies will move from online to back in the office, once they’re back in the office more placements will be made available. Keep checking with companies you’re interested in.

Travelling

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Greece? Believe it or not this is actually in Cornwall!

The traditional gap year round Asia may be placed on hold but there’s still loads of beautiful places to be discovered closer to home. From driving through the Scottish Highlands, to going on the world’s fastest zipwire in Wales, to kayaking down the Thames, there’s plenty of hidden gems. Travelling around the UK still gives you a wider perspective, enhances your time management and organisation skills which employers love. 80% of employers think that travelling makes you more qualified for the job!

COVID-19 Impact

When travel restrictions relax you travel further afield. If you do choose to go travelling make sure you:

  1. Consider the location - trekking through a jungle in the Andes sounds great until you get sick and are days away from the nearest hospital. Make sure you’d have quick access to medical attention in the places you’re travelling if the worst happens.
  2. Research restrictions - countries all across Europe and the world are taking different approaches to coronavirus. Make sure you understand the regulations in the countries you’re visiting and follow guidance.
  3. Are prepared for last minute changes - governments are moving quickly to squash coronavirus outbreaks. Be wary of quarantines being imposed.
  4. Have travel insurance - make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers you not only for medical emergencies (like catching corona), but for flight cancellations and travel companies shutting down.

Working

Spending a year working helps enhance your CV. Being a student can be expensive and student loans don’t always cover rent and living expenses. Savings can be used for university, travel, and general living expenses. You develop skills such as team work, leadership, adaptability, commercial awareness, and time management. These skills are invaluable and will help you to get either an internship or another job.

Working Abroad

Why not combine working with travel? Working abroad is a fantastic way to spend your gap year. From working as a ski instructor in Canada, to a camp counsellor in America to an Au Pair in France, there are thousands of options available to you.

At present this may be out of the question but lots of companies recruit a season in advance so you can start looking now for summer 2021, for example American summer camp counsellors recruit in autumn for the following summer.

There are plenty of work abroad placements available closer to home in the UK and Ireland. You can find lots of short programs and opportunities on Work Away, from working with horses, to maintaining a forest, to child-minding, to working with dogs, there are plenty of options.

Find out more about:

Useful websites for working abroad:

Learn a new skill or language

Mastering a new skill take 10,000 hours of practice, so you could spend the next year working towards a new skill you’ve always wanted to maser.

Dreamed of studying abroad and eating croissants on the bank of the Seine? Get a head start on learning the lingo by taking a french class. Are you an aspiring writer? Spend the next year working on your debut novel. Developing new skills, especially if they’re unusual, will make you even more employable and help your applications stand out.

Useful websites for learning a language:

Volunteering

A great way to spend your gap year is volunteering and making a difference in other people’s lives. Not only do you get to work for a worthwhile cause, but you can gain skills, meet new people and enhance your CV.

There are thousands of volunteering options available to you such as social media management, conservation work, and teaching english to refugees. Lots of companies are facing volunteer shortages due to the coronavirus so are eager to recruit new volunteers.

Check out Do-it, NCVO, and vInspired to find out more about the different opportunities available.

International Volunteering

If you still want to volunteer but are sick of the UK, why not volunteer abroad? Like with the UK there’s thousands of opportunities out there, but these opportunities tend to be exciting and unusual such as volunteering with Orangutans in South East Asia. International volunteering combines the best of volunteering and travel, you get to see the world while making a difference in someone’s life.

COVID-19 Impact

Most countries have restrictions and have tightened their boarders due to corona, the Foreign Office is still advising against all but essential travel to lots of popular gap year volunteering regions in South East Asia (as of September 2020). With the situation constantly changing and differing coronavirus approaches by countries it’s unclear whether people will be able to volunteer abroad for a while, keep checking the UK Foreign Offices’ website and consider if it is necessary to travel before deciding on international volunteering. Lots of the more interesting placements abroad tend to be in remote areas - you’ll need to seriously consider the location as if you do get sick, being in a jungle days from a hospital is less than ideal.

When considering volunteering internationally it’s important to research the program and company in depth. Voluntourism is a volunteering practice where internationals travel abroad to ‘help’ a local community or group less privileged then themselves. This leads to unskilled workers spending short amounts of time in countries in an effort to transform communities’ lives when they lack the knowledge and skills to make a difference. One American volunteer in Tanzania commented that during her volunteering experience the volunteers “were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure.”

Think carefully about what you can offer and what skills you have. If you wouldn’t consider doing the work in your home country, you probably shouldn’t do it abroad!

Find international volunteer placements at VSO International and Go Abroad.


These are just a few ways to spend your gap year. There's thousands of opportunities out there and no 'right way' to do a gap year. Everyone's gap year experience is different, and helps them in different ways. However you spend the year you're sure to have an exciting jam-packed year full of meeting new people and developing new skills.


By Clarissa Ducie

Posted in Advice, COVID-19 on Sep 03, 2020 by

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