A PRE-UNIVERSITY gap year doesn't have to involve typhoid jabs and backpacking. As the cost of attending university spirals, there is a growing trend for students to work for a year in the UK to help save towards college living costs.
"If you are looking to earn money in your gap year, remember that your objective is actually to save," warns Tom Griffths, founder of specialist gap-year website, gapyear.com. "It's easy to start frittering money away on beer or visiting friends. Organise a saving plan, get your bank accounts sorted and exercise some restraint. You need to understand why you are taking a gap year."
Griffiths remembers his gap year, which combined working for half the year and then using his savings for travelling. "I worked for six months at a local McDonald's in Ipswich, but because I lived in the country I had to drive. I was doing 30 miles every day. It sounds sad, but I'd read somewhere that the most petrolefficient way to drive your car was at 57 miles an hour, so I religiously kept to that speed. Perhaps I only saved Pounds 50 in total but that paid for a month's living costs in Vietnam."
Griffiths points out that the growing gap-year industry trends are towards getting work experience, working to save money and doing so within 10 miles of home. "Our research suggests that 69 per cent of school-leavers have never visited their school careers office and 50 per cent have no idea what they want to do in life. Even in the age of vocational degrees and placement years, we believe that a constructive gap year is more useful than a worthless, badly rated degree course.
"Often, someone will combine a job to pay the bills with volunteering at the local Mencap shop, for example," Griffiths adds. "If you are interested in breaking into a highly competitive career like the media it pays to get ahead by doing some work experience at your local radio station, for example."
WORKING WITH CHILDREN
AFTER completing an A-level course in English and an AS-level in philosophy and ethics, Hazel Copping (right), 19, spent an academic year as a volunteer through Community Service Volunteers (CSV), the UK's largest volunteering organisation.
Copping worked as a residential assistant at Meath School near Woking, Surrey, a residential primary school for children with speech and language difficulties, supported by the Charity I CAN. In return she received free accommodation, meals and Pounds 30 pocket money a week.
"Although I had done some babysitting, and had worked as a classroom assistant for my school work-experience placement, I had no experience of children with special educational needs," she says.
"Paget Gorman Sign Language is used in all the I CAN schools and I found it easy to learn."
Copping, from Felixstowe in Suffolk, originally applied to CSV in the January of her A-level year. "But I didn't hear from them or get an interview until June," she recalls. "I remember going to the CSV's regional centre in Cambridge and being questioned on where I lived, my local area, and what I felt I could offer to a placement. I talked about helping in my local community. The process was all about making sure they posted me in the kind of placement that would suit me."
Copping started at the school in September last year. "Some of the children had problems finding the right words - it takes them longer than you or me," she says. "Others have a physical condition, like Worster-Drought syndrome, a rare form of cerebral palsy that affects the muscles around the throat and mouth. The children learn in small groups of eight or nine, receiving intensive speech and language therapy, as well as accessing the National Curriculum.
"I was impressed by how much the children improved in the year I was there," she says. "I remember one child who really struggled to say the name of the speech therapist who was working with him when I first started at the school.
By the end of my time there we could understand what he was trying to say."
"Now I'm going to take some more time out and get a job locally - I still haven't decided whether further education is for me."
. For volunteer information and an application pack about fulltime volunteering for people aged 16-plus call 0800 374 991 or visit the website www.csv.org.uk to apply online.
SALLY ANNE Longstaff (right), 19, spent a year at Martin-Baker Aircraft Company as part of the Year in Industry (YinI) Scheme, studying the success of the company's aircraft ejection systems. Reviewing and analysing a huge amount of historical data, Longstaff produced a detailed report identifying areas in which development was needed, and in turn influenced the future designs of ejector systems.
"I heard about the YinI scheme through a friend who was a former participant," she says. "I'm starting a four-year M Eng in aeronautics at Imperial College London in September and when I applied, Imperial positively encouraged me to take a year out, particularly as I was going to gain practical knowledge of engineering."
A leading aerospace company, Martin-Baker designs and manufactures aircrew escape systems, supplying 90 air forces worldwide. Longstaff was given the target of further improving the quality of products by looking at the causes of injuries and rare fatalities that happen during attempted escape from stricken aircraft, so future efforts may be directed towards areas that will provide the greatest improvements to aircraft safety. In the future, these ideas will be applied to the latest design of ejection seat.
Longstaff, who gained As in maths, physics and psychology, as well as in her AS-levels in design, technology and general studies, had to go through a tough selection process to land her placement. There is competition for places on the YinI scheme and the final decision rests with the companies, who are influenced by your examination grades, personal qualities and motivation.
She adds: "I was paid Pounds 11,000 for a year and lived in a student house in Uxbridge. Martin-Baker is based in a village four miles away and the company organises a minibus to transport staff to its offices.
"I struggled at first to find suitable accommodation but then contacted Brunel University accommodation office and explained my predicament. They were instrumental in my finding cheap accommodation near my placement."
Longstaff has no regrets about not travelling during her gap year - although she could have done in the few months she had before starting university. "I plan to travel after university," she says.
She would definitely recommend her experiences. "I wanted a break from education but I needed to keep my brain active," she says.
"At the beginning of the year I wouldn't have thought it was possible to cram as much knowledge in my head. I've had a great experience working for a world-leading company - and have been offered the possibility of work during my university holidays."
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