Can't choose? Here's how to do both...
If you haven’t yet made plans for the next academic year, consider this – you already have everything you need for a unique, fulfilling gap year, right there in your rucksack.
In today’s super-connected world, there is a wealth of knowledge at our disposal. Whether it’s watching YouTube videos, listening to a podcast, or reading a blog, we can now learn almost anything online. All it takes is a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and an internet connection.
So instead of spending thousands of pounds on an expensive gap-year package, some school leavers are deciding to simply spend that time learning – their way, their rules.
Thanks to sites like edX and Coursera, the doors of the world’s best universities are now open to us all. Offering free online courses known as MOOCs (massive open online courses), schools such as Harvard, Berklee, the University of London, and the Sorbonne, provide classes that include lectures, reading materials, a student community, and assessment (if you wish), all for free. You choose the classes, and you choose when you learn.
These are just two of the many websites that provide classes on almost anything you can think of. Other examples are Tuts+, which teaches skills including coding, illustration, photography, and web design, and the BBC Academy which features online learning resources in journalism and media production. The more you look, the more you will find.
And don’t forget the real world. Many of the bigger online courses organise meet-ups to bring people together. You may also choose to supplement your online learning with a local community class – there are some fantastic ones out there.
From art to business, a growing number of professionals offer advice – you can create your own degree! One American artist has even taken the time to write up his guide to an alternative to art school, at a fraction of the $200,000 many US students pay for a college degree.
Taking time to really explore what you’re interested in might be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. You might realise the expensive course you thought you wanted to do isn’t quite your bag after all, or find yourself heading in a whole new direction.
Of course, for some of the more traditional professions, such as law and medicine, you can’t get around the requirement of a university degree. Even so, a year of self-guided study will help you build up knowledge and skills that will help you once you undertake formal training, as well as nail down the areas you’re most interested in.
If this sounds interesting, but you’re getting cabin fever at the mere thought of spending any more time in your bedroom, there’s a solution – creative co-working spaces.
Also known as 'hot desking', you rent a desk to work or study, mix it up and meet other like-minded people. East London’s Hatch is a great option, and at only £12 a day, it won’t break the bank. There are similar outfits all over the UK.
Spending a year exploring and learning doesn’t have to mean you can’t travel the world as well. If you’ve got some money saved, you could rent a room abroad and live like a local in another city. Or you might go with a cheap hostel and hot desk option. Explore by day, feed your brain by night – you decide.
Now more than ever, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to designing your education. Whether your passion is applied mathematics or circus arts, law or industrial design, you’re in creative control, and the tools you need are just a click away...