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9 Top Gap Year Resolutions

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Taking a Gap Year can be a tremendous opportunity for ambitious students.

There are very few times in your life when you’re free to take a whole year to work on whatever you’d like, whether that’s getting some work experience, seeing the world, carrying out research or improving your study skills. But at the same time, it’s very easy to let a Gap Year go by without having achieved any of the goals you took the time out to work on.

Whether your Gap Year has already started or you’re planning ahead, one way to keep yourself on track is to think about what it is you’d like to achieve. They might be specific goals, or general areas that you’d like to feel you’ve made progress in. In this article, we’ve suggested some Gap Year resolutions that you might like to consider making this New Year. And if you’re interested in making the most of your Gap Year, take a look at our 10-week Gap Year Programmes, where you can live and learn in the beautiful surrounds of our International Study Centre, Yarnton Manor.

1. Learn a new language

Image shows an assortment of language-learning books.

You can make a lot of progress on learning a language in a year.

A Gap Year is one of the best opportunities to learn a new language, or work on improving your abilities in a language you’ve already been learning. While it’s true that our ability to pick up languages decreases with age, you have two key advantages when you’re taking a Gap Year: first, you’re likely to be much more motivated to practise than you were when you were a child; and second, and most importantly, you can travel to the relevant country and immerse yourself fully in learning the language. This is by far the most effective way of learning a language quickly, as you’ll be practising it constantly and using it to get by, rather than trying to learn things in a classroom setting, which can be artificial.

Even if you aren’t going to get the chance to go abroad for a longer period of time, a shorter, intensive period can help. Or you might want to consider using an app like Duolingo to learn a little bit every day, so that by the end of the year, you know there’ll be a measurable improvement in your language skills. If you end up doing a year abroad as part of your degree, you’ll be ready.

2. Enhance your study skills

Image shows an ORA student working.

Working on study skills is an important part of our Gap Year Programme.

There are lots of study skills you’ll be expected to have at university that you won’t necessarily be formally taught either at school or at university. For instance, while your school might teach you how to write an essay in a particular style, your university is likely to expect a different style, and only some will take the time to teach you how to do it; others will simply expect you to pick it up as you go along. Any tuition you might get in how to carry out research, especially in the humanities, is likely to be limited to a couple of hours on how to find the book you want in the library. Universities will usually leave this up to the library induction, which is typically in Freshers’ Week when there’s so much else going on that whatever is explained to you on the tour is unlikely to stick. And there are other useful skills, such as critical thinking and teambuilding, that are unlikely to be taught at school or university at all.

Our Gap Year Programme includes a choice of two electives that allow you to work intensively on these important skills before you go to university. Or you may wish to take a look at our online courses, which cover topics such as Essay Writing and Presentation Skills, and which you can study from home in your own time.

3. Grow your confidence

Image shows four volunteers in matching t-shirts.

Being part of a successful team can build your confidence.

The last years of school can sap your confidence. With rounds of exams and university applications, there’s a lot of being assessed against criteria set by others, and it’s hard not to let your confidence take a blow when you receive rejections or don’t quite make your grades. Even if you succeed in all of these goals, it’s still a time that can wear you down.

A Gap Year represents a great opportunity to get some of your lost confidence back. That might be in taking on a volunteering project where you can develop new skills and be truly useful to those in need, or it might be building up your study skills, as above, so that you know you’ll be ready for university once you get there. How you go about this is up to you, and will depend considerably on what it is that makes you feel like you’re succeeding. One approach that can help is getting a job for some of your Gap Year. Not only will it give you extra cash for when you go to university, it’s also confidence-building to know that someone values your time enough to pay you for it.

4. Become more independent

Image shows someone cooking spaghetti.

Learning to cook is very helpful, even if it’s only the basics.

The school to university transition can be a tough one. For many students, it’s a dramatic break from living at home, having food cooked for them, laundry done for them, and no rent or bills to think about, to moving out and going to university, and suddenly having to take responsibility for all of these aspects of adult life – as well as moving away from friends and, of course, taking up university studies.

Most students fall on their feet, but for some, the change can be rocky. You can make it easier on yourself by working to become more independent during your Gap Year. If you’re living at home for that period, take on more chores and ask your family to talk you through how they maintain the house and pay the bills. Moving away from home for some or all of your Gap Year of course helps you to develop these skills more rapidly, and could be an extra factor if you’re trying to decide what to spend the year doing.

5. Do some good

Image shows a group of volunteers with shovels and spades.

Volunteering can be very satisfying.

A classic Gap Year activity is to get involved in volunteering, whether at home or overseas. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. Staying at home saves money, and may let you see a side to your local community that might previously have been invisible to you. You can get involved directly – for instance, by walking animal shelter dogs or practising English with refugee children – or you can work on the administration or fundraising side, for instance by working in a charity shop. Staying at home can mean getting to know new people locally, and you’re also likely to be well equipped to judge the positive impact of your work.

Going overseas, on the other hand, is undeniably more exciting. You might get to visit a new country and have something of a holiday alongside helping to make the world a better place. The downside is that this can be an expensive way to spend your Gap Year, and unfortunately it can be easy to end up doing more harm than good; for instance, volunteering in orphanages can discourage adoption and fostering, which has much better outcomes for the children involved. If you go down this route, make sure to do lots of research and stick to reputable organisations.

6. See the world

Image shows people sitting on a coach.

A Gap Year gives you time to travel.

Even if you don’t decide to go down the volunteering route, travel can be a great way to spend your Gap Year. There are lots of options for doing this, such as travelling on the cheap by backpacking or youth hosteling; alternatively, you could find a scheme whereby you work for a while in order to pay for the next part of your trip. And it’s always possible to combine several different options, such as a few weeks of working, a few weeks of studying overseas (such as in Oxford on our Gap Year Programme), and a few weeks of travelling purely for pleasure.

If that’s beyond your budget, then think about what your top destination is to visit this year. Prioritise places that you can get to relatively cheaply but where travelling takes a long time, as your Gap Year is a time when you might not have much money, but you definitely have lots of time. You can take long journeys with a good book, and enjoy the travelling as part of the fun.

7. Make new friends (and stay in touch with old ones)

Image shows someone opening a mailbox.

Even snail mail can help you stay in touch.

University is a time of change and transition, which can affect your friendships in ways you don’t expect. You’ll make new friends, but you’re also likely to lose touch with old ones, an experience that can be exacerbated rather than helped by the sometimes distorting effects of social media.

Sometimes this is unavoidable, but a Gap Year can be an opportunity to treat your friendships more mindfully, and make sure that you lay the foundations for staying in touch with friends you don’t want to lose contact with. If you have friends who’ve already gone to university, make the time to go and visit them so that you don’t drift apart during this time that you’re doing different things with your lives. If you’re travelling overseas, it can be very easy to lose touch with friends who aren’t so proactive about keeping up with the friendship, so think about how you can keep in contact while you’re on the move.

A Gap Year is also a great opportunity to make new friends. If you’ve been at the same school for a long time, you might not have made new close friends in a while, and it’s a skill that can use some practice so that getting to know someone doesn’t feel awkward. Any of the things we’ve discussed so far in this article – travelling, volunteering, studying – offer opportunities to get to know new people and pursue lasting friendships with them.

8. Confront the things you struggle with

Image shows a crowd in an underground station.

Now is the time to become more comfortable in crowds.

The last few years of school can be a time when you focus on the future, especially exams and university applications, sometimes at the expense of other things you might like to work on. A Gap Year can be an opportunity to take a step back and think about what you might have been neglecting or ignoring in order to get through the more pressured times.

That might be something connected to emotions or mental health, such as working on dealing with anxiety or lack of confidence. It might be something more practical, such as skills you’d like to gain from the academic (such as public speaking) to the domestic (such as mastering cooking). Or it might even be working to overcome a phobia, such as fear of heights or crowds. The common thread is that a Gap Year gives you time and leisure to think about these struggles and what you can best do to either overcome them or develop better coping mechanisms to deal with them as they arise in future.

9. Get ready for university

Image shows two ORA students.

Our Gap Year Programme could be the ideal way to prepare for university.

Don’t make getting ready for university a last-minute scramble. If you’re not taking a Gap Year, then you’ll only have a summer to prepare (and for most of that, you might not know for sure if you’ve got the grades you’ll need for your university of choice) but if you are, then you have several months to get ready. That might include getting ahead on reading lists, deciding what you want to take and what you don’t, and thinking about any skills you’ll need to learn or gaps in your subject knowledge you’ll need to fill.

For the latter, our Gap Year Programme combines subject-specific tuition with skills-based electives, as well as an Extended Project to explore your creativity, learn focus, and develop skills for studying independently in future. With the right preparation and some good Gap Year resolutions, you won’t need to feel nervous about going to university; you’ll instead know you’ve done all you can in order to be ready for this exciting next stage in your life.

Image credits: gap year; languages; volunteering team; cooking; volunteering; travel; postbox; crowds.  

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