Taking a Gap Year

Why Take a Gap Year?

Taking a year out between leaving school or college and starting university can be a really beneficial experience providing the time is used constructively. It’s an opportunity to take a break from full time study, earn some money, have some adventures and new experiences, and develop as an individual. If you spend time away from home during this time a knock on effect is likely to be an increase in independence, motivation and confidence which will help you settle in to university more easily. Your experiences could also enhance your CV.

Plan Ahead

Think carefully about your reasons for wanting to take a gap year and be clear about your aims before you start planning and looking for suitable opportunities. This will help you to organise a worthwhile experience and to allay any concerns your parents may have about you taking time out from study.

Things to Think About

  • Be prepared for the fact that your study skills are likely to go rusty if you take a year out; you may find returning to study quite difficult initially at the start of your university course.
  • Some of your school friends will be a year ahead of you at university; although you will make new friends during your gap year and at university.
  • Overseas gap programmes can be expensive; do investigate the costs carefully and work out what you can afford or whether you need to fundraise in advance.
  • See www.gov.uk/gap-year-foreign-travel-advice for the range of issues you should be aware of before travelling overseas, including health, insurance, money, visas, passports, travel, accommodation, staying safe and keeping in touch with family at home.

What Can You Do in a Gap Year?

There are various options to consider and a well structured gap year may include several of these elements. Here are the main ones;

  • Paid work – to earn money towards the costs of travel or university and/or to gain some career relevant experience. The Year in Industry scheme is worth investigating if you are interested in science, engineering or business. The Gap-year Guidebook has ideas for gap year employment in the UK and round the world or take a look at www.gapwork.com.
  • Volunteering – in the UK there are numerous options, including community work, practical activities like archaeological digs or nature conservation as well as fundraising or campaigning for good causes. You could choose to do something related to your degree course or career plans. If you are considering volunteering abroad there are lots of gap organisations providing a wide range of opportunities. Some of these are expensive and you may need to fundraise in advance. The Year Out Group website is a good place to start looking for overseas placements; all their member organisations offer well-structured programmes and adhere to the Group’s Code of Practice.
  • Travel – go independently or look for an adventure or travel programme offered by a gap organisation. Either way, research and preparation is vital to ensure you have a safe trip. Check out the government advice on travel abroad at the planning stage of your trip.
  • Learn a new skill – take a short course in art, culture, music, photography, language, IT, sports instruction. The Gap-year Guidebook has suggestions for short courses or search at www.hotcourses.com. Some gap providers offer skills development, for example, courses in cookery, languages or sports instructor qualifications.

What about Your University Application?

In general universities are supportive of applicants taking a year out after school/college because of the positive benefits you will gain. However, it is sensible to check that course providers will consider an application for a deferred place before you make your university application. In particular some maths and science admissions staff may have reservations because of the effect a gap year can have on study skills.

When should you apply to university if you are considering a gap year? You can either apply for a deferred place in your final year of school/college on the basis of your predicted grades or you can apply during your gap year with your actual grades. The advantage of making an application while you are still at school/college is that you will have the support of school staff to help you with your application. However, applying to university in your gap year gives you more time to decide which course to choose and if applying with the grades you have already achieved it means you may receive unconditional offers very quickly. Don’t forget to complete your UCAS application by the 15th January deadline at the latest. If applying for a degree course where you expect to be interviewed, make sure your gap year plans give you the flexibility to attend such interviews. * *It’s also sensible to include a brief outline of any gap year plans in your UCAS personal statement.

Alternatives to the Pre-University Year Out

The traditional school leaver’s gap year is not the only way to have a ‘gap’ experience. Nowadays time out from study or employment is increasingly being taken by graduates and employees. You could also consider a short gap placement in the long summer holiday after your final school exams or during a long university vacation.

Advice and Information

Information and advice from the association of leading gap organisations

Information and advice on taking a gap year

Information and advice on gap year jobs and volunteering opportunities

Government advice on travel and work abroad

Paid placements in industry

Database of UK volunteering opportunities

UK volunteering charity

The Gap-year Guidebook 
Comprehensive guide to taking a gap year; covers travel, volunteering in UK and abroad, working around the world, short courses etc (John Catt Educational Ltd)