Taking a year out is increasingly becoming a consideration for graduates and students alike. Despite mounting debts graduates recognise the benefits to personal development that a well-planned year out can offer. This can enhance your graduate CV and offer an employer many graduate skills that are in demand by graduate recruiters.

Should you take a year out?

What is a year out?

A year out between university and your first graduate job can offer you an exciting, challenging and valuable learning opportunity, be it in the UK or overseas. For example, HBOS (formerly Halifax Plc) points out:

"From our point of view a year out shows independence, strength of character and the ability to plan ahead."

A former graduate recruiter for BP says:

"A well-organised gap year largely spent overseas is a powerful way of developing many of the personal characteristics that BP seeks in graduate recruits: initiative in planning the year, the commercial and influencing skills often deployed in raising money at the start, the teamwork involved in many projects, the drive that is needed to succeed in a very different environment and the international perspective developed from immersion in another culture. Above all the experience as a whole builds confidence - the confidence that comes from tackling a major challenge and succeeding."

Your time away does not necessarily have to be 12 months, it could be a few weeks or months but it should show a degree of commitment; the longer the placement, the greater the commitment.

Why take a year out?

  • It can enrich your life forever
  • Broaden your view of the world and those around you
  • Reflect on what you really want to do
  • Relax from education!
  • Meet new people
  • Improve your understanding of yourself
  • Learn to adapt to a new environment
  • Deal with the unexpected

What are the options for travelling?

  • Be a volunteer in the UK or overseas
  • Live abroad on a cultural exchange
  • Participate in an expedition, e.g. charity run programmes
  • Join a structured work experience opportunity
  • Learn a new skill on a course in the UK or overseas

How much does it cost?

It varies between organisations. Usually you will have to cover your travel expenses. Some volunteer organisations will provide board and lodging and even a small weekly allowance. If you go it alone and decide not to work it can run up to £5000-£10,000 depending on where you go.

How can I maximise my time away and improve my CV?

  • Do your research and plan thoroughly so what you get out meets your goals
  • Keep a diary and log all your experiences
  • Ask for references from the year out organisation
  • Find interesting graduate jobs abroad to discuss in future job applications

How can I detail my experiences in my CV?

  • List your achievements
  • Focus on skills you have learned and back this up with evidence
Route Planning Around a Map

Which organisation is most suitable?

There are several so it's best to google search 'Gap years' or 'work abroad'. Follow our useful guide below and it should identify who can help. The questions you are asking should something like the following:

1. Programme selection

  • What is the age range of participants?
  • Selection criteria - who are they looking for and what is the interview procedure?
  • Is there a choice of different programmes?
  • What are the number of participants selected for each programme?

2. Benefits

  • What will I gain from doing this?
  • Will anyone else benefit from this placement apart from me?
  • Why are young people from the UK needed on this and who asked for us to do it?
  • Will the programme continue after I have left?

3. What exactly will I be doing?

  • How has the programme been chosen and checked out?
  • Are the host organisations paid to take me? Do they pay me?
  • Will I be alone, who will I be placed with?
  • What can I expect in terms of accommodation and food? 
  • What is expected of me? What will be my responsibilities?
  • Do I have to sign anything? Is there a written agreement between me and the organisation?

4. What's the cost?

  • What is the precise programme cost and what does it cover?
  • What is the recommended budget for extras?
  • If I have to pay a deposit, is it refundable?
  • When and how do I pay? What happens if I cancel?
  • If I have to raise funds, does the organisation give advice?

5. The organisation

  • Why does the organisation exist? How long has it been around?
  • Is it a partnership, private company, public company, registered charity, sole trader or other? Where is it registered?
  • Examples of successful programmes and a chat to past participants can shed a lot of light very quickly and easily on whether you feel the programme is right for you
  • What if there is an emergency?
  • What are the organisation's policies on Equal Opportunities?

6. Before you go

  • Who is responsible for travel arrangements? This includes travel visas and work permits!
  • Who provides insurance and what is included in the cover? Health, possessions, cancellation and repatriation?
  • What about inoculations and health precautions? Help and advice please!
  • How about training and pre-departure briefing - do I get any of that?

7. During your placement

  • Who is the person responsible for me at the programme location?
  • Where is the nearest representative of the organisation? If I have a problem, do I contact this person?
  • What if there is a major emergency - can somebody deal with this and get me home?
  • What is included in the living arrangements? Who selects and checks out the accommodation?
  • If staying with host families, are they paid or are they volunteers?

8. After your return

  • Will the organisation have any contact with me when I return?
  • Can my experience be of any use to future participants?
  • Will I get a reference or certificate, indeed anything to prove that I was actually there and completed the programme?
  • Will I be debriefed?

Passports and Visas

If you wish to travel abroad you must hold a full 10 year passport, even for a day trip. Ensure you apply in good time.  You can find out more at the UK Passport Service website.

Some countries have an immigration requirement, meaning your passport must be valid for a minimum period on your return journey, which is generally six months. This is a requirement of the country concerned, not the UK Passport Service. Any questions should be addressed to their consulate or embassy.

Outside the UK, you should get advice from the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can issue emergency passports, and in some places can issue full passports.

If you plan to travel outside British territories you may require a visa to enter the country you are going to.

Check visa requirements with your travel agent or contact the consulate or embassy of the country you plan to visit.

If you are a British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Overseas Citizen, British Subject, British National Overseas, or a British Protected Person, you may need a visa that is not required by British Citizens.

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