Duke of Edinburgh's Award (DofE)
In need of a boost to your job or college application? The Duke of Edinburgh's Award could be the answer, and hopefully you'll end up with some new best friends and great memories.
Employers, universities and volunteering agencies all want "well-rounded individuals". You may have spent every waking moment of the last few years studying for a bunch of qualifications and trying to hold down a job, but apparently that is no longer enough. They all want social magnets who regularly rebuild African villages after trekking across China while running outings for pensioners from Scarborough.
Employers recognise the value of having people who have a life away from their job. The cynic would say this is because a lot of the skills you gain being involved in hobbies and activities outside of work save the company from dipping into its training budget. But equally, who'd want to learn leadership or teamwork skills sitting in a stuffy meeting room watching a bunch of Powerpoint slides?
This is where the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (DofE) steps in. Set up by the great man himself back when the world was in black and white, it's now become the best-known award for young people to demonstrate they have a life outside the classroom, office or factory.
What does it involve?
The award is aimed at every young person aged 14-25, and has three levels: bronze, silver and gold. Each stage has four elements: service, skill, physical recreation and expedition. There's a fifth element for the gold award: residential. Each element has a time commitment (from three to 12 months depending on the award stage) and participants are expected to spend at least one hour a week on each element.
This means doing something for others. That could be volunteering to work with children, elderly people, providing first aid, helping in a charity shop or at a drop-in centre. The only stipulation is it has to be helping other people, and you can't get paid for it.
This involves a skill you develop. It can be pretty much any type of hobby or activity, from learning sign language, photography, playing an instrument or even a sport.
This means getting out and doing something: from trampolining, roller blading, Tae Kwon-Do or dancing to more traditional sports like football, swimming and running.
You'll have to go trekking somewhere; typically packing a rucksack and carrying your tent across a hilly bit of the countryside. It depends on the stage of your award as to how long you need to be away for, but the minimum is two days including an overnight.
For the Gold level of the award, you'll have to go away for at least five days and four nights, with other people you don't previously know.
What do I get out of it?
The reason so many people do their Duke of Edinburgh's Award is because it's recognised and well-regarded by tutors and employers. Having a DofE Gold Award on your CV is a very quick way of telling potential employers that you are a committed and motivated person who doesn't spend their entire life watching re-runs of Friends while eating pizza.
But more than just being a qualification to impress prospective employers, the DofE can get you doing stuff you wouldn't normally do at the same time as making new friends. Most people who complete their DofE come away with positive memories from their experience, and many continue volunteering or taking part in a physical activity long after they completed their award.
The experiences you can get through something like the DofE mean you can improve your teamwork, communication and leadership skills. As a result, you should come out of it feeling a lot more confident about taking on the world.
How to get involved?
Unfortunately you won't be going hiking with the Duke of Edinburgh himself. Instead you get involved in the scheme through one of the 300 'operating authorities' that exist around the country. These range from schools, youth clubs, university groups, national bodies (like the Scouts or Air Training Corps), businesses and sometimes groups set up purely to work on their Duke of Edinburgh's Award. If you already belong to an organisation that operates the DofE, you'll usually get involved through them, but you don't have to. You can find local operating authorities on the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme website.