There is much uncertainty in the world of work and education. Many students who are presented with the opportunity of a gap year are feeling dejected by their limited options to create new experiences, take a break, and remotivate their ambitions.

While 2020 has felt like the longest year, travel restrictions and domestic guidelines have further limited how young people can approach a gap year. For some, breaking for a whole year is just unviable―education and work cannot always be put on hold.

Instead, taking a shorter break is becoming a more popular option. We have seen the rise of the micro-gap year, a shorter break where students can still experience the thrills and experiences of a normal year-long break condensed into a few months.

Here, we look at why students are taking shorter gap years and what experiences are waiting for those who do.

The best opportunity

For students who received their A-level results in August 2020, the following year may be the best opportunity to take a micro-gap year. After the government overturned UK results to match that of students’ teacher-predicted grades, this year saw the highest level of marks achieved on record. For instance, the number of A grades increased from 20.1 in 2019 to 27.1 in 2020. Subsequently, more students have achieved their grade requirements for university, and a record number of students have chosen the option of higher education.

However, with universities at capacity, especially given the need to social distance when face-to-face tuition commences, some students are being presented with a unique and intriguing opportunity: defer your entry and receive a grant.

Durham University announced that if students chose to defer to 2021 entry, they would receive a bursary and guaranteed accommodation when they eventually attend university. Some universities have been offering up to £4,000 for delayed entry.

In this instance, the financial incentive may appeal to students to defer, but some may feel that a few thousand is not enough to sustain themselves for a year. In this case, students are more likely to work for part of the year, but still have access to new opportunities for some.

While the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works for a lot of people’s plans, it stresses the importance of taking every opportunity you are presented with. For others who are further into university or are seeking out work, using this time when people are less inclined to take new opportunities is the reason to do it. Micro-gap years can still help you develop all of your social and employable skills, just like a full gap year.

Developing your skills

People go on gap years for several reasons, from wanting to experience something different, to developing the employable skills. In an open survey by SIA Austria, asked why they took a gap year, one respondent stated: "I wanted work experience before going back into education.”

Another gap-year attendee emphasised how they broke up their gap year with employment. Asked how they spent their gap year, they responded: “I travelled for four months and then came home and worked in my local pub for six months.”

Breaking up your gap year with work or gaining multiple different experiences is the key to micro-gap years. Employment is often used to complement other opportunities to make them more financially viable.

One opportunity allows people to learn how to become a ski instructor over 22 weeks. The five-to-six-month long course does not take up the entirety of a year, leaving other employment options open to students for the rest of their gap year. It's also a safe and viable option to go abroad amongst ever-changing travel restrictions.

While being a unique and enjoyable experience, it's important to understand how each activity can give you real-life employable skills. Training exercises like these allow you to develop leadership, teamwork, social, and safety skills that can be used in any interview process or future job.

Giving back to the community

For those less adventurous, a micro-gap year is a perfect opportunity to give back to the community. Volunteer activities are becoming increasingly essential due to the difficulties that coronavirus restrictions have presented, particularly to vulnerable individuals.

According to UK Fundraising, one in five adults have volunteered during the lockdown, with 78 per cent of those intending to continue their charitable work after restrictions are eased. People who were furloughed were more likely to volunteer than people who weren’t, proving that work or education may prevent people from volunteering. Of course, there is still a demand for virtuous people to join worthy causes across the country.

One opportunity includes the NHS Volunteer Responders, who are supporting the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. There are 1.5 million people in England alone who are at risk to the virus―this volunteering exercise allows you to help those closest to you. Tasks may include grocery shopping or picking up prescription medicine.

Volunteering on a micro-gap year means that people can make a positive contribution to society, while also opening themselves up to other employment opportunities. A gap year does not have to be a binary choice. You may opt to do part-time work or education to around your micro-gap year opportunities.

Micro-gap years may be limited in time, but they are not limited in the number of available opportunities, even during a pandemic. Gap years are intended to develop a series of skills, whether personal or employable, and a micro-gap year gives you the chance to harbour these skills while using some other time for education or work to make the break more viable. Whether you choose to go abroad or stay home during your micro-gap year, it’s unlikely that you’ll regret it either way!

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