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Book Reviews
Taking a Year Off
Author: Margaret Flynn
Trotman and Company Limited
ISBN: 0 85660 850 5
Price: £11.99

The idea of taking a year off before or after university is becoming increasingly popular in the United Kingdom. Popularly known as a gap year, this period of time out allows students to step off the treadmill of examinations and professional development to do something completely different.

Some young people take the opportunity to get the best-paid temporary employment they can find in order to save as much money as possible to offset the inevitable mountain of student debt; others grab the chance to travel around the world to find mountains to climb; others opt for a period of voluntary work.

Last year, a record number of university applicants - nearly 26,000 or about 7% of the total - asked for deferred entry so that they could explore the benefits of a gap year. It is not known how many graduates take a gap year at the end of their course but the University of Birmingham estimates that a further 7% take time out in this way.

Advisers who dismiss gap years as the preserve of rich white kids from independent schools will find some of the case studies revealing. It is well known, for example, that the Indian community in Britain tends to shy away from participating in such activity. Listen, however, to the experience of Aruna Sethi, who took a year off before starting a degree in psychology: "I knew that I would have a long path of studying so I decided to take a gap year in order to gain some relevant work experience and have a few adventures on the way! I managed to gain work experience in England, France, Romania and India. I slotted in a few days' travel in Italy as well. I concentrated on working with adults and children with learning and physical difficulties…My experiences working in a Romanian orphanage were drawn upon in my third year of university, when I formatted my dissertation proposal and then went back to the orphanage to carry it out.

"Gap years are not very common among Asian families. This may be because of the emphasis on education and qualifications combined with strong parental influence. Some parents may not see what you may gain from a gap year. My mum was happy with the idea of a gap year but my dad was more dubious and tried to persuade me to wait until after university."

Looking back, Aruna describes her gap year as the best time of her life, a time when she developed vital self-confidence and self-reliance skills. She also gained the experience that she hopes will help her achieve her aim of qualifying as an educational psychologist.

Not everyone, of course, enjoys such a positive experience but you should be able to build up a balanced picture from the many case studies in this well-researched book. There are also many pages of ideas on organisations to contact for detailed information on how to make the most of a gap year.

Could a gap year be right for your clients? They could do worse than to check out the answers to the light-hearted, self-test quizzes dotted around this book!

Ken Reynolds




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