Taking a gap year

By Gwen Williams

Speaking as a third year, I’m very well aware that I’m progressing ever closer to the end of my time as an undergraduate. This is a feeling shared by many third years, and a lot of our relatives and family friends want to know “what next?” Some of your friends may be going on to further education and others may have applied for jobs that they are waiting to hear back from. I am incredibly proud of my friends who have things lined up after graduation, but I must admit that their organisation scares me.

After 21 years of indecisiveness over my career path, I still don’t know what to do after university. Personally, my problem is that on one hand, there are many interesting avenues I could explore, yet like many students, I am afraid of choosing the wrong path.

With several busy months of stress, I realised that making a rushed decision while trying to complete my degree and juggle other commitments would more than likely come back to bite me, so I decided to take a year out of education and re-evaluate what I want from my future career. Alongside my part time job, I am in the process of organising a variety of work placements for the next few months to see what I enjoy.

I spoke to Lizzie Harrett, who returned to do a Masters in Science, Media and Communication at Cardiff, to get the point of view of someone who’s been through a year out:

What made you consider taking a year out?

I was burnt out after my final year of university and felt completely drained. Further study (science communication) was an option, but honestly I needed to recharge my batteries.

I wanted to have a job that was strictly nine to five so that I could relax during the evenings and weekends. I also still wasn’t 100% if I wanted to undertake further study. Signing up for a masters is a big commitment and I needed to be sure.

What did you decide to do with your gap year?

I did my undergraduate degree at The University of Manchester, who offered internships for recent graduates working in the University. I worked in student support as a Student Experience Intern, organising student representative meetings and so on.

Halfway through the year I got promoted. I started working in widening participation, where I was sole coordinator for a programme that had over 60 sixth form students enrolled. I had to plan events for them and even took them on trips that included London and a residential event to the University of Warwick.

I also fulfilled my graduation promise, relaxing most evenings and weekends. With my salary I could afford to travel to visit friends around the country and went on holiday to Prague Florence and Siena. I also wanted to keep my science communication skills up, so I volunteered most Saturdays at Manchester Museum.

How do you think the year away from education benefited you?

It allowed me to relax after the stress of final year instead of diving straight into more study. The time out gave me a chance to really weigh up whether I wanted to undertake further study and reevaluate what was important to me.

It also allowed me to gain skills and experience that I have found very useful as a masters student. I had to juggle lots of tasks and deadlines within my job, which really improved my organisational and time-management skills – they’re now much better than when I was undergraduate! Working in a graduate-level workplace has also given me lots more confidence too.

Would you recommend taking a year out to others?

Definitely. Higher education is a massive commitment – both in terms of time and money. You don’t get a student loan for it in the same way you do as an undergraduate. The year out made me 100% sure I wanted to get a masters qualification, and I didn’t feel rushed into it in any way.

Recharging my batteries was also really good for my health and motivation, I started my masters a year later feeling really fresh and ready to learn and get stuck back into it.

After working nine to five for a year, I also really appreciate the student lie-ins I can go back to (although less so as a postgraduate, unfortunately!)

I was also able to use my wage over the year to buy myself a new laptop for postgraduate studies as well as putting some to the side to make sure I would have some money when I went back to being a broke student!

How did you approach making a decision for your future during your gap year?

While I enjoyed my work at Manchester, I knew I didn’t want to work in administration for the rest of my life. I had kept up my volunteering on the side and knew I really wanted a career in science communication so started to look at postgraduate courses.

I’m originally from Cardiff and am very lucky that the University offer a fantastic course that really suited my needs. This meant I could live at home (saving money on rent) and only have to pay tuition fees.

Do you have any advice for Gair Rhydd readers that are considering this option?

Make sure you have a plan for what you want to do for the year, so you don’t start drifting – even if that’s just working in a local shop for a year, be sure you know what you’re doing.

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