Further education

My gap year’s been the best time of my life. Here’s how to take advantage of deferring

By Lloyd Rhodes-Brandon Aug 25, 2020

So, you’re deferring uni, perhaps to avoid the risk of a lifeless fresher’s spent socially distancing.

Well, I personally never even wanted to take a gap year. But I’ve learned so much about myself and the world in the past twelve months that it’s actually quite difficult for me to imagine having gone to university lacking this new knowledge and experience.

Some people reading may have heard the phrase ‘gap yah’, the term imagined in an upper-class accent. It connotes some rich kid deferring uni to undertake a journey across Europe and ‘find themselves’, feigning compassion for the unfortunate along the way…

Besides the problematic implications of characterising an entire demographic with such accusations, it simply isn’t correct— even if amusing. Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to who went straight from further to higher education tells me that on reflection, they suspect deferring and taking a break would have been beneficial.

“I’ve learned so much in these twelve months that it’s actually quite difficult for me to imagine having gone to university lacking this new knowledge and experience.”

In the wake of COVID-19, the need to shift public perception of a gap year from suspicion to respect— brought about by deferring or otherwise— is dire. Read on to discover some examples of how you could make the most of yours.

Ways to improve employability after deferring

Done right, deferring can actually give you an edge in the job market.

Work experience can be invaluable

The economic recession that now grips us means many organisations are waning in their ability to recruit. But on the other hand, social distancing measures and the increased importance of key workers have respectively created an influx of remote and essential roles. And that’s not to mention the excellent selection of apprenticeships growing each day.

Indeed, now more than ever there’s a whole host of online opportunities cropping up. I actually found this paid freelance writing position through a competition on the Fledglink app— it’s certainly one place to keep your eyes on if deferring. Key worker roles available to young people meanwhile can include:

• delivery
• supermarket jobs
• public transport
• admin positions in organisations like the NHS

Something else which will be in increasing demand as the year goes on is online tutoring. I've dipped my toes in tutoring Sociology and have found it very fulfilling. It's also an excellent way to keep sharp in your chosen field of study while you wait to start uni.

Internships and volunteering on a gap year

From November last year to February this year I was a Community Engagement intern at a local charity, an opportunity which has been one of the best experiences of my life so far. Furthermore, the position has already opened many gateways. Through the connections I made there, I’ve been able to:

• attend an event where I managed to get my head of council onboard a project of mine
• take part in community organising training
• join a council-led community group discussing crime
• make an amazing friend who I still speak with

The networking I mentioned above is a great way to spend the time away from education generated by deferring. Check out the huge network of fellow young people you can connect with on Fledglink’s app.

“Volunteering is a great thing to do in itself— it’s been shown to improve your mental health and generally increase life satisfaction.”

I managed to get the internship by first pouring myself into a voluntary role at the organisation. Whilst that prospect is slightly more difficult to imagine achieving in the COVID-19 economic climate, I'd still suggest this as a viable route into employment.

Volunteering is a great thing to do in itself, too— it’s been shown to improve your mental health and generally increase life satisfaction. Check out this great website: a database of online voluntary work you can get stuck into from the comfort of your own home after deferring.

A gap year is the perfect chance to learn new skills…

…or work on existing ones. And one way to develop these skills after deferring in an age of distancing and travel restrictions is through online courses. You can study all kinds of stuff online for free. Incredible examples from a minute’s browse:

• Stanford University offers a course in Machine Learning (a topic of great importance)
• the London Business School teaches Brand Management
• the University of Edinburgh has an introduction to Philosophy

There's also the option of teaching yourself. In the last few months I've started learning guitar, using chord tabs to orient myself, and I'm having a great experience in the process.

What's great about teaching yourself a skill is that you can focus on whatever aspect of it you'd like at any given moment.

Let's say you want to learn graphic design. You could enrol in a course and be taken through every aspect of the subject in a set order, and that would indeed be an excellent method.

But I think there's something to be said for letting your mind tug you in whatever direction it feels, filling the blanks with advice from your mates and the internet. Maybe today you want to make a logo for an imaginary coffee shop, just for practice and fun -

You don't know how to change the colour of your text?!

YouTube tutorial to the rescue. Graphics knowledge expanded. You get the drill. Weird flex? I think not…

Ways to future-proof your career after deferring

An obvious way to safeguard your future on your break from education, though made more difficult by COVID-19’s economic ripples, is to save up some money. This can make life beyond the gap year easier and keep your opportunities more open. I've struggled with it and on reflection, my advice would be glaringly obvious in theory yet fiendishly difficult in practice: budgeting. Don't let yourself reach the end of the day and be stunned by how much you've spent! Find an app that keeps you regularly notified on your spending, and set yourself a mental limit each day on the maximum you want to spend.

Another way to future-proof your career after deferring is to familiarise yourself with some technology. This doesn’t have to mean something complex like coding (though there are fields in which it's surprisingly beneficial to have such knowledge like Psychology). You can get to grips with the basics of programs along the lines of Excel. I think it's worth trying to teach yourself something first, but there are online courses (remember many are free!) for such skills.

An endeavour both interesting and well worth your time following deferring is to research the implications that current developments are predicted to have on your chosen field. I hope to be a full-time activist, so I just looked up "implications of automation for activists”. I found a pretty fascinating article about AI tackling homelessness and inequalities in law— and what such developments could mean in the future. There will be information like this for every sector, so I do really encourage reading up on such topics.

A gap year is also a chance to tend to your health

I found a gap year the ideal environment for curbing my physically unhealthy habits and trying to form new ones. You might use your time to start eating more healthily, improving your sleep hygiene, or perhaps exercising more.

What I must say to anyone who's interested in embarking on that journey is that it is a long one. I’m barely letting started. A study published by the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes an average of about two months to solidly form/break a single habit.

If you’re anything like me, your brain might have just automatically told you that you can do it in less time. I don't recommend trying it! I've found that it's much less frustrating to go all into something and do the work required for actual results at the end. Putting half the required effort into something is inevitably fruitless. You have 365 whole days in front of you; what’s the rush?

Another essential aspect of my gap year meanwhile was working on radical acceptance and generally dealing with my feelings. Acceptance has been explored in texts throughout history, from the spiritual to the psychological, and can be applied to anyone's life.

Radical acceptance is acknowledging and sitting with something for however long is needed. It’s, um, deferring the instinct to judge your feelings. This approach to life applies to little (yet intense) things like anxiety in a social setting. Or you may ponder its implications right down to life-defining struggles like losing a loved one.

Deferring: next steps

If you will be deferring to undertake a gap year, congratulations— with a bit of effort and luck, I think you'll come out the other side a new and improved you, ready to take on whatever’s coming next.

But what do you do with all this information?

“Creating a checklist of goals could make the difference between a gap year and a ‘gap yah’... especially if you tailor your ideas to the academic subject of your choosing.”

You decide which rewards you'd like to reap from this year after deferring, and you write them down to refer back to and perhaps rethink over the year. What sounded good to you from this article? Do you want to…

• spend some time first recuperating from the twelve or so years of education now behind you?
• gain new skills?
• save up some money?
• do other things from this article and beyond?

Creating a checklist to anchor yourself could make the difference between a gap year and a gap yah... especially if you tailor your ideas to the academic subject of your choosing. If you’re really lost, read up on choosing a career— perhaps taking the Fledglink personality quiz while you’re at it. And always be sure to keep up with the government's advice on travel in this unpredictable era.

This year, school leavers deferring uni can hope to have an ‘alternative to clearing’ from Fledglink in the form of learning resources, job opportunities and more. And as you fill your year with awesome plans, you can use the app to create a stunning digital CV to match.

There are a lot of things we'd like to do with our lives which we never get round to.

A logical period for doing such things may seem to be the time following graduation.

But what makes a gap year special?

To me, a gap year is a whole ocean of opportunity, nestled comfortably in a wider structure.

After university, the door to the future is blown wide open and there's a lot of uncertainty. Deferring creates a gap year that contains the context of your past education and the promise of your future plans. You can experiment to a pretty large degree because in most cases your destination remains the same regardless of what you do in that period.

What changes is the person you are by the end of it.

“After uni there’s much uncertainty. A gap year has the context of your past and the promise of your future plans; what changes is the person you are by the end of it.”

And if you want one more piece of testimony from me on taking a gap year... well, once I realised how different uni is going to be this September, I actually decided on deferring again to take a second gap year. That wasn’t too hard a decision to make, since I enjoyed the last one so much.

So, um, wish me luck… and download Fledglink for a friend in your pocket who’ll guide you through the year!

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