Gap years: 8 ways to get more from a year out

gap year Getty Images man jumping in the street
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gap years may become more popular than ever this year and next. With exam results in the UK now out (and many left confused and/or disappointed), many young people are now thinking about their future career prospects. And with many university courses now entirely online, a gap year is perhaps more tempting than ever.

Gap years may have previously called to mind adventurous jet setting across the globe, but this year, most will be planning to stay closer to home. So how do you turn several months off into a productive experience that sets you in good stead for your next step? Read on for some tips and tricks to help you get more from your gap year. 

And if you're looking to improve your skills over this time, don't miss our roundup of the best Illustrator tutorials or Photoshop shortcuts

01. Seek commissions

Freelancing is probably the most flexible way of earning money for your skills. Get in touch with people and agencies who inspire you, and pitch yourself to them. Bear in mind that the people you get in touch with will likely receive a lot of emails, so you need to make yours stand out. Pitch an idea for something you could draw or write (or whatever your skill is) for their company, and make sure it is related to recent events or themes they are focusing on to show you've done your research. 

02. Open a savings account

Put your loose change somewhere safe

Put your loose change somewhere safe (Image credit: Pexels/Anthony)

Nothing beats a steadfast saving plan, so if you don’t have a savings account already, then definitely open one. Most accounts don't take long to set up and even if the interest rates aren't up to much, it's good to have a separate pot of money set aside for the future.

You can set up more than one and dedicate them to different goals, and then start a routine of putting in one pound or 50p every day or every week. This might not seem like a lot at first, but it doesn’t take long to accumulate, and saving is a surefire way to have something to show for a year off.

03. Get work experience

Work experience is something employers and universities look for on CVs, and something you might even need to have as a prerequisite to a college or uni course. Taking a year out to treat work experience as your job will likely push you to the top of the pile of university applications. Of course, the main problem with work experience is the money (or lack of), but don't settle for a fee of zero if you can help it. Some agencies do offer paid placements, so seek these out if you can. Also remember that short placements can make a big difference to your future career, so you don't necessarily need to commit months of your gap year – a week or two may be enough. 

04. Work on personal projects

Students often immerse themselves in their college or university projects, hand them in and then decide their job is done. But the best way of exercising your creative skills is to always be working on a personal project that doesn’t have anything to do with your main job or course. 

However creative your course or work experience might be, there will always be  a brief or a mark to work to, which restricts your creative freedom. In your own projects, there are no limits, and the projects that really show your true interests and passions are the sort of things universities and employers love to see in your portfolio (see some inspirational design portfolios here).

05. Create a website


Create a website to showcase your best work (Image credit: Wix)

A lot of people think creating a website is a difficult and complex operation that requires several people and lines of code, but this is far from the truth. Creating a website with a website builder like Wix (see the best website builders for more options) will just be a case of getting used to it, as with any design programme. It’s predominantly a simple process of dragging, dropping and colour swatching until you have an online space in your style. 

Your website is an invaluable asset to have at any point in your life – it should basically work as an online portfolio, showcasing all of your best work. It’s important to be picky though – only select your absolute best and keep it focused. Ideally, your website's URL should be your name so that it is easy for people to find you; buy a personalised domain name to show that you're truly committed (plus, it looks more professional). 

06. Perfect your university application

As more and more students choose to go to university, the selection process is becoming increasingly competitive, and creative students often have to complete one or several briefs for an application. A year to work on making these the best they could be is an invaluable opportunity to make you and the quality of your work stand out. Spend this time doing research into the briefs and the sort of things that the university marks highly – look at the work showcased on their website for clues. 

07. Attend online conferences

Going to conferences is another great way to gain contacts and open up more opportunities. Not only this, but you’ll get the chance to be inspired, learn new things and maybe even inspire other people. Conferences probably won't be occurring in the flesh for a while, but in the interim, take the time to look into decent events taking place online (at least you'll save on travel). This might also help you decide which conferences you want to invest your time and money into in the future. 

08. Don't forget to network

Sometimes it can feel daunting to reach out to people you admire, but it’s a brilliant way to move forward in the creative industry. It’s definitely always worth getting in touch with people who inspire you via LinkedIn or email and letting them know how much you love their work and why. Make sure you do this professionally, without gushing. Dropping in how you’d be honoured to intern or work for them, with a link to your website, is always an option. 

It doesn’t matter if you get rejected or even if they don’t reply; at least if you ask, you’re giving yourself an opportunity which you wouldn’t have if you did nothing. People are also more likely to remember you if you ask (nicely).  Remember that networking is about deliberately putting yourself on people’s radars, and giving yourself potential contacts for the future. For more on this, see our piece on how to network.

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Mabel Wynne is an art student working as a creative freelancer, specialising in illustration and filmmaking.