Student Gap year? – ideas and things to think about

Gap years can be used to enhance your CV, travel, learn new skills, and much more. Find out more and get some inspiration here.

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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.

Why do you want to take a year out?
It’s really important to set goals to make your time productive, so you need to identify what you want to achieve. You might want to:

  • have a break from study
  • gain new skills/experiences
  • earn money
  • spend time deciding what you want to do
  • do a combination of the above
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A year out isn’t an option that suits everyone – for some, it may be advisable not to take a break between studies. Here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.
  • 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 is essential.
  • If you don’t get organised, you may end up spending your gap year just ‘thinking about

It’s really 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.

There is a wide range of gap year and volunteering schemes available. 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.

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 may need to consider.

You may find useful information 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.

Gap year ideas, what can you do?
Volunteering – support a worthwhile cause and gain valuable experience. You could take part in a wildlife conservation project, teach children in an orphanage, 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 will 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

What do you want to achieve from a gap year? New skills, experience, or do you want more time to consider your future? Set goals to make your time productive – think about getting the right balance between time spent and benefits gained.

How much time can you be away and when? What do you want to spend your time doing and where? Are you going to work, are there interests or hobbies you can take further, or do you want to help others by volunteering? What value will it add to your study, your CV, or career?

What is available? 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.
How much money will you need? Unless you’re planning to work or have some financial help, you are going to need money. 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.
It may be possible to defer your acceptance of a place on a higher education course for a year – however, you may need to make your case directly to the university or college concerned for why this would be beneficial.
If you have any doubts, discuss your ideas further with parents/carers, teachers, or a careers adviser.

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