Gap Year

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Not everyone decides to go straight onto college after the Leaving Cert. In fact, many students decide to take a ‘break’ from their studies and embark on some travel or building up their bank account funds! This is commonly called a ‘gap year’ or a ‘year off’. Typically, it marks a transition between life stages such as in between completing the Leaving Cert and going on to third level education. Many third level students also use their summer holidays as a kind of ‘gap year’ and obtain working visas to foreign countries so that they can spend a few months travelling and working in a new place.

There are many different types of ‘gap years’ that people undertake and they can vary hugely in the length of duration and the kind of activities undertaken. They range from around-the-world trips to working holidays overseas, action-packed adventures in the great outdoors to voluntary placements in far-off lands working on worthwhile projects as diverse as doing marine research, helping develop farming techniques in underprivileged areas and supplying medical care to orphans and other disadvantaged members of communities.

The ‘gap year’ phenomenon is the fastest growing travel sector with an estimated global gap year market of £11bn by 2010. More than 8000 Irish students went to the US last year on a student J1 working travel visa. The J1 work and travel programme is available to all third level students in Ireland and gives them access to all 51 states of America and a legal work permit for up to 4 months. It is becoming increasingly popular for third level students to gain such a visa and spend their 4 month summer holidays doing something constructive – getting to grips with a new place and culture while having an unforgettable adventure! Inter-railing around Europe is another highly popular way for students to spend their summer as it is an affordable and easy way to travel around Europe. It is advisable for students planning a gap year to apply to the CAO as normal and defer it for a year later. Not only is a gap year good fun but it also provides real life experience.

People grow in independence and learn to live in other cultures. Furthermore, the skills gained on a well-structured gap year are in high demand from employers and university admission staff alike – such as fundraising, teamwork, independence and motivation, facing and overcoming challenges, and working in different cultural environments. Most people return from a gap year revitalised, full of enthusiasm and focused – another reason why employers will want to hire them!

Structurally organised voluntary programmes are a popular choice with people who don’t want to travel alone or who want to make a real difference while experiencing a totally new culture. They are also a good choice for those who can only take a short period of time away as voluntary programmes can last for a few weeks to a full year. The range of projects available include everything from looking after sick and endangered animals to saving sea turtles in the wild or building huts for whole communities to live in. Projects such as these are sure to provide challenging and rewarding learning experiences that will leave a lasting impression on the individual. Entering the workforce is another common ‘gap year’ option. Students sometimes use this year to gain useful work experience in a career industry of interest to them while saving money to fund their college career.


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