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How a gap year volunteering during university can help your lea

  • There are many things that can worry students about taking that year out from learning during a university or college course. Will you be seen by your peers to not want that qualification as much, perhaps you are just interested in partying and holidaying?  Perhaps you are worried about having to start again the following year without your friends and with a whole new set of faces? Going through that could be seen as a negative thing, but what happens if I told you that taking a gap year during university can actually help your learning?

    What is a gap year?

    I have gone into what a gap year is in another post about how a gap year can benefit your future studies. The post is all about the benefits of taking a gap year before starting college or university. Taking a gap year can be done at any point in your life, but it is traditionally taken prior or during full-time education in college or university. It is recognised by many that by the time you are in university, you have spent most of your life in full-time education. A gap year is usually a year-long break away from university and the educational system that allows you to follow your own interests, work, volunteer or travel.  However, it does not even have to be a whole year, but perhaps a semester, or even a module of the course.

    How exactly can a gap year help my learning in university?

    There are obviously positives outside of academia to why taking a gap year volunteering can help your future job prospects such as showing your new employer that you are ready for working life and have experience in your chosen field. However, the positives for the here and now are ones that you might not have thought about. These are things that you need to include when approaching your university with a well-written letter pointing out the advantages of taking a gap year during university and how it will help you in your learning and future job prospects. Below are some of the ways taking a gap year volunteering during university can help your learning.

    Recharges your mind

    Most of your life, you will have now been in full-time education. Are you tired of all your deadlines for academic work? Perhaps you are thinking that university is no longer for you? It can be healthy to take some time off from study within a university course and a gap year can achieve this. You can still be learning within your chosen field but it is out of a classroom. You might be in a completely different culture, or one that is similar, but you will be faced with new challenges which will give you a sense of purpose. A lot of people travel within their gap year as well as volunteer, which can leave you recharged and refreshed for your return to learning on your course in university.

    Learn new skills

    Volunteering within your gap year from university can leave you with a whole new set of skills. If you choose wisely, you can build a whole new set of transferable skills to use in learning and your working life. Perhaps a different language would be a help on your CV. Perhaps teaching would show that you can induct new members of staff. Even taking on some managerial experience whilst volunteering will show that you have what it takes to develop yourself further. A lot of people learn faster in practice than just in a university classroom so that high school Spanish you studied will excel once put in the situation where you need it to communicate.

    Ability to work in a team

    Remember those group projects you were forced to do during your study? Did that make you feel valued? Or did you just find it hard work and annoying, other students didn’t want to do it and you really didn’t want to be there?  Well, imagine if you wanted to be part of that team and had chosen to be there.

    Teamwork is a necessary part of most university courses and your working life. Volunteering whilst taking your gap year can really help you develop this skill and prove that you have what it takes. This can be transferred back into university study and perhaps you can take on the management side of this group work. Managing each person's contributions can be difficult but with your knowledge, I am sure could help you get the grades you need.

    Give you academic credits

    Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in every area. It is rare to find someone that is good at it all. However academic courses sometimes do not allow for weaknesses in one area so a failure in one module might mean that you fail the whole course due to not having enough academic credits. Si, if you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses in learning, you might be able to approach your university about using a gap year experience to gain academic credits. Your experience will most likely have to be volunteering in the field and topic you are studying in but this might just give you the vital credits that you need to pass that module or overall course.

    Approach your academic teacher armed with a statement about how this experience will help you further your experience in the course and what transferable skills it can bring you. It could be that not only do the university grant you time out to complete a gap year but also the learning experience can give you those much needed academic credits.

    Increase your confidence

    Starting university can be hard. It isn’t just because you are learning at a higher level but you are also moving to a new set of systems and making new friends. Sometimes this can have a negative impact on your confidence which can in turn impact on your learning as well as your future job prospects. Volunteering and travelling can really help with giving you the skills you need to boost your confidence. Being confident will come easily after you have had an extremely important role such as a medical volunteer saving a life or navigating your way across a foreign land.  A gap year can give you the maturity and independence that is required in university. Additionally, it shows that you have the ability and motivation to develop yourself further as well as being able to self-educate.

    Improve your mental health

    Mental health is more discussed now than in the past and it is recognised by a lot of universities that more support for mental health needs to be given to students. Mental health problems are a big reason for people not completing their course and dropping out mid-learning in university. Volunteering and travelling are shown to have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing and enables that journey of self-discovery that might help you. Returning home with a new appreciation for life and a greater understanding of oneself can really stabilise you.

    As you know there are many positives in taking a gap year learning by volunteering whilst at the university. Not only are you making a positive contribution to the cause you are working for but it can really help you in further study and life. From that act of kindness, you show to a stranger to gaining academic credits, I am sure that you will definitely agree that the positives outweigh the negatives.

    So my advice to you if you think of taking a gap year, is to prove to the university how this experience will help you achieve more through this type of learning. Considering some of the ideas from this article and talk about the transferable skills you will gain. Take a look at their university policy to see what they say about gap years and deferring a year to make your approach the right approach for them.


  • Kathy James
    Kathy James Thanks for sharing your experience, Lauren. I truly believe that taking a gap year will build you with confidence. It really did help me. Also, the reference from your time volunteering goes a long way to helping you get future jobs.
    January 21, 2019 - Report
  • Kathy James
    Kathy James Thank you, Sobia. I am so glad that you had the chance to volunteer and give back to the community. It really does give you that feel good factor. I love volunteering whenever I can.
    January 21, 2019 - Report
  • Kathy James
    Kathy James You are totally right Zaynab, there is nothing more important than looking after our mental health and acknowledging when we need a break from academia. And rather than having empty space on your record after having a complete burn out from overworking,...  more
    January 21, 2019 - Report
  • Kathy James
    Kathy James I am glad that your friends have taken away lots of positive things from their gap year. I am also really pleased that they are sharing with others about what they gained from it. I think self-development is what I took away from my gap year.
    January 21, 2019 - Report