A gap year offers you the opportunity to gain skills and experiences, while giving you time to reflect and focus on what you want to do next.
- A productive gap year can be valuable on your CV – many employers value the experiences students have gained if they’ve actively managed their time, set themselves goals, and stretched themselves.
- A gap year can also enhance your higher education studies – if you decide to apply for uni, you could tailor your gap year to relate it to the subject area you plan to study.
- Admissions tutors know that some students may take a little time to adjust to studying again, but many former gap year students are generally more focused and responsible.
Pros and cons of taking a gap year
- An opportunity to have a break from studying and return refreshed. You can volunteer, get valuable work experience, and travel the world.
- A productive gap year can be valuable on your CV.
- You could relate the experience and activities to the subject area you plan to study.
- You can earn and save money towards your higher education costs or future plans.
- You will develop maturity if you don’t yet feel ready for higher education or work life. For some careers, it can be an advantage to be slightly older and have some life experience.
- Some people find a year out becomes a distraction from their longer term plans.
- An unstructured year out may not add much value to your future – careful thought and planning are essential.
- It can be harder to return to study or work after a year-long break.
- It can be expensive and you could find yourself in a worse financial position at the end.
- If you don’t get organised, you may end up spending your gap year just ‘thinking about it’.
It’s important to form a plan of what you will do for the year, no matter what your gap year idea is, and you need to start planning well in advance. Some voluntary work schemes are popular and have strict deadlines, and you need to consider when you need the money to pay for airfares or visas.
There are loads of ideas you could consider – some might fill an entire year, others a few weeks or months. You could also combine more than one idea.
- Volunteering – support a worthwhile cause and gain valuable experience. You could take part in a wildlife conservation project, teach children, or help build a school in a third world country.
- Travel – explore the world, discover new cultures, and develop your independent living skills at the same time. You could go backpacking across South East Asia, InterRail through Europe, or buy a round the world plane ticket.
- Paid employment – earn money and gain new skills at home or aboard. You could work on an outback farm in Australia, as a ski lift operator in Canada, or at a backpacker hostel in New Zealand.
- Work experience – if you want to gain relevant experience and skills for a particular career or subject you plan to study, you could consider a work placement or internship. These can last from a few weeks to a year. Depending on the type of contract on offer, you may or may not receive a salary. These are very popular and competition for places is high, so you need to apply early.
- Part-time courses – why not take the opportunity to try something new? You could take up a new language, learn how to programme, try a new sport or music instrument, or learn a new practical skill, such as mechanics, carpentry, or cookery.
Gap year tips
Research the wide range of gap year and volunteering schemes available, or look into organising it yourself. If you’re using an agency or scheme, check out how long they have been running, if they are financially sound, and are members of a reputable organisation such as ABTA or Year Out Group, where they agree to follow a code of conduct. Look at the reviews, articles, and advice from people who’ve ’been there and done’ the sort of gap year you’re considering.
Set yourself a realistic budget that you can afford to stick to. Costs vary considerably, so research carefully and don’t forget to add things like flights, visas, accommodation, insurance, and vaccinations (you can check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for information on vaccinations).
It’s worth checking forums and social media for tips and insight into other people’s experience of gap years you’re interested in, particularly if you are looking at going abroad. Think carefully about what you want to do, and seek advice if you want to talk your ideas through further. If you have any doubts, discuss your ideas further with parents/carers, teachers, or a careers adviser.
- Tutor with Yipiyap – life-changing peer tutoring to kick-start your career.
- Year Out Group
- Real Gap Experience
- Volunteering England
- Volunteer Scotland
- Volunteering Wales
- Volunteer Now – Northern Ireland
- Youth social action volunteering – #iwill
- International Citizen Service (ICS) – government funded international volunteering placements for 18-25 year olds in the UK.
If you want to organise it yourself, research the costs of the features offered by organised schemes which appeal to you, but make sure you get advice on safety, any additional checks, and insurance cover you need.
You may find useful info on social media, online forums, and websites. Look at the reviews, articles, and advice from people who’ve ‘been there and done that’ for the sort of gap year you’re considering.