School-leavers and "gap" students taking a year off are not being deterred from full-time volunteer work because of changes to student funding, according to Community Service Volunteers Scotland, the leading agency.
Catherine Field, CSV Scotland's external relations officer, said only one or two were dropping out to avoid increased debt caused by the scrapping of grants and the introduction of loans and tuition fees. "We are encouraging people not to panic and to think strategically because these are big decisions for the future. Young people have to ask themselves what they want to achieve," Ms Field said.
About 150 young Scots every year volunteer to be sent anywhere in Britain to work on a range of community placements, from helping people with learning disabilities to working with young offenders or the homeless. Ms Field said: "A year out has become a popular option over the last five to six years. Universities often lower the number of points you need to get in if you have done volunteering. The gap year is not going to die."
Ms Field said CSV was encouraging teachers and career advisers not to pressurise young people into heading straight to university. A year out of studies had many advantages. "You can come back feeling refreshed. It gives you time to recharge your batteries after all the swotting and studying. School environments can be quite limiting. CSV is about saying we will put you in an environment that is completely different and which is useful to getting a job eventually," Ms Field said.
Many "soft", people-based skills were improved through working in the community. "It is not just exam certificates employers are increasingly looking for. They are looking for proof you can do things, can meet challenges and deadlines and full-time volunteering is one of the ways you can prove that, " she said.
Volunteers are given expenses, food and accommodation in return for between four months and a year of their time. All placements are away from home.
Jill O'Sullivan, aged 18, from Kirriemuir, says the changes in student funding might have dissuaded her from a CSV placement, but adds: "If you are determined enough, you would want to do it." People who volunteer are genuinely committed to helping others, she says.
Jill has completed a seven-month placement with an Edinburgh charity and will take up a place on a psychology course at Dundee University in September, a year after leaving S6 at Webster's High.
"I just wanted to do something different and I did not want to follow what everyone else did. The appeal of CSV is that it's free. You do not know what you are going to do and you have no idea where you are going," she says.
She "lived in" with two people with learning disabilities. "It was a big challenge and most of it was fun but living in is hard when it's 24 hours a day. It's also different being away from home and being responsible for other people. I also worked in an office for one day a week," she says.
Jill says the experience has made her more mature and better prepared to face university.
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