Coronavirus has put those choosing between university and a gap year in a real quandary. Take a place at uni at a time of unprecedented disruption to the university experience? Or defer and grapple with a situation in which every aspect of a typical gap year – working, volunteering, travelling – has changed completely? One thing’s for certain: a successful gap year in the age of Covid-19 is going to require imagination and lateral thinking. Here’s your guide to the options.
Jobs are in short supply right now, with 600,000 having been lost in the UK between March and May, and fears of more losses to come. Consequently, jobs that might previously have been seen as easy options for gap-year employment – supermarket or call centre work or fruit-picking, for example – may now be harder to land. Resources such as Save the Student and Student Job can help you assess your options. Remember to make sure that any prospective workplace conforms to government guidelines on working safely during coronavirus.
Remote internships such as those offered by Start Me Up Careers are another option and provide the chance to gain experience in fields as diverse as tech, social enterprise and conservation. Working holidays in the UK can also be found on websites such as Workaway, which links up hosts with travellers. The traveller helps the host out for a few hours a day in return for food and a place to stay, and sometimes a wage.
Despite Covid-19’s dire economic impact, many workers who have retained their incomes have used the reduced opportunities to spend during lockdown to save hard. If you can find a job, the situation may at least mean heading to university with that rarest of student commodities: a financial cushion.
How possible it will be to volunteer abroad in the near future is of course shrouded in uncertainty. However, as Dr Peter Slowe, the founder and chairman of Projects Abroad, says, when things do start up again, student volunteers will be needed more than ever. “Charities are going to have less money and government aid budgets are going to be cut, so young volunteers will be in huge demand to help fill the gaps,” he says.
For now, volunteering in the UK is far more viable. Working in a food bank via the Trussell Trust, delivering supplies to people who are shielding, or joining the NHS Volunteer Responders are great ways to help.
For something that uses your academic skills, the Coronavirus Tutoring Initiative connects students with young people who are in need of free remote tutoring in pre-GCSE, GCSE, or A-level subjects, while Studenteer sets up voluntary work with hard-pressed charities, good causes and small businesses.
Though “air bridges” have opened up the possibility of foreign travel again, anywhere in the world could suddenly become a Covid-19 hotspot until a vaccine is found. A wait-and-see approach is the way to go, advises Charlotte Hindle, author of Lonely Planet’s The Gap Year Book.
“My view is that it is going to be difficult to travel for a long period of time to multiple countries during your gap year, and you might want to wait until a vaccine is found,” she says. “Countries that are safe now may not be in the future, travel insurance is tricky, and new lockdowns can happen anywhere at any time, potentially leaving you stranded. What happens if you catch the virus while you’re away? How do you isolate in a hostel dorm, or get back home?”
Day trips or staycations are less fraught with such dangers, though, as Hindle points out, whether at home or abroad, it’s much harder to be safe when you’re travelling.
Some much-needed good cheer comes from Delilah Pearson and Isabella Inga, both 18 and beginning gap years. They see plenty of possibilities in the year ahead in spite of everything. Inga has deferred a fine art degree at Loughborough for a year and will take a foundation diploma in art and design at Buckinghamshire New University. “My diploma will be quite full-on,” she says. “But I also plan to earn money working and selling my art. If it’s safe I will travel in Europe, and I want to properly learn Italian, something I’ve been pursuing over lockdown and would like to continue.”
Pearson, meanwhile, plans to volunteer, run a half marathon and climb Mount Snowdon on the way to completing her Gold Duke of Edinburgh award. If possible, she’d also like to spend time in a French-speaking country as part of her prep for a languages degree. “Despite the cliche, I’m hoping to find some more clarity about the direction I would like to go in,” she says. “The sudden pause of lockdown has been a benefit because it has allowed me to explore my interests, and ensure that when I go to uni I will be pursuing something I am truly passionate about.”