What's a Gap Year All About?
A gap year pretty much does what it says on the tin. It about taking a break between two stages in your life, and for young people this usually means taking time between the end of school and the start of further education, training or a full time job. People choose gap years to get experience in travel, work and sometimes even to cram in a little extra studying…
Why Should I Consider Taking a Gap Year?
A gap year isn’t just a chance to take some time off and explore the globe, it can be an important opportunity to gain work experience, whether that’s as a volunteer teaching abroad, or finding internships and paid jobs at home.
Some students aren’t sure whether to go on to university or straight into work after school and a gap year can be a good chance to explore your options.
Who Can Help me Plan my Gap Year?
There are a whole bunch of Gap year providers online who offer organised travel, work and volunteering programmes as well as useful planning tools. Check out the useful links at the bottom of this article for some ideas. We've got loads of helpful guidance in the gap year section of our website, from what to take with you to how to plan your travels.
What Can I do on my Gap Year?
It’s up to you what you do, but the important thing on a gap year is to use your time well and make a plan to give it some structure. Here are some popular choices:
Whether you’re jetting off across the world or staying closer to home, there are special tours and tickets designed for young people.
STA travel offer flight deals for students and young people under 26 as well as tours, treks and volunteer programmes
Interrail offers European rail passes that can cover up to 30 countries in one month at special rates for youths aged 12-25
Lots of gap year providers like Gapforce and Realgap offer organised treks, expeditions, volunteer and working holidays. These are great because you get to travel and work with people your own age and the organisers will make sure you are looked after.
If you want to travel alone, you should be very careful where you go and get plenty of advice before you set off. Make sure you have an up to date guidebook of where you are going and that your family have a copy of your itinerary and contact numbers. You should also register with the British Consulate wherever you travel to.
Volunteering can be a great way to combine travel with work experience. This will usually involve working for a charity either at home or abroad. Popular volunteering opportunities include teaching and community projects, conservation, sports and summer schools like Camp America.
You can find out about volunteer opportunities through gap year providers like Real Gap, Travellers Abroad and Frontier –
You can also visit charity websites directly to see what’s on offer.
Popular options for young people working abroad on their gap year include:
- Au pair: As an au pair you will live with a host family and look after their children while they work and maybe help them learn English too.
- Become a sports instructor: You’ll need to pay for some training first but if you are an experienced skier or scuba diver you can apply to work as an instructor at popular holiday destinations all over the world
- Teaching: There are lots of jobs available teaching English as a foreign language. To get paid you will need to take a short TEFL qualification first.
There’s nothing wrong with looking for work closer to home on your gap year too. It gives you a great chance to save up some cash and, if you are going on to uni, you might have some guaranteed work set up for your holidays afterwards.
If you would like to get a head start before university or broaden your skills, there are plenty of courses available, lasting from a few weeks to 12 months.
ESL language abroad offers the chance to study a language in more than 40 countries all over the world. There are special gap year courses available which allow you to study at a language school and/or mix it with internships or paid work.
Duke of Edinburgh awards are available for 14-24 year olds and are designed to give you experience in volunteering, expeditions, sports and all kinds of skills from acting to astronomy. The top award can be completed part time over 12 months.
Lots of universities put on summer schools for their students but also members of the public. Check with your local university for courses.
For more information, check out our article on gap year courses.
How Long Does a Gap Year Last?
Gap year work and study programmes can last anywhere from two weeks to 12 months so you can choose a length to suit you.
If you want to take a break between school and University, you will need to wait until the following September to join the next intake of students.
However, you might be able to enrol in a summer school beforehand. You can find out about these direct from your local university or the university you’re heading to.
If you are going into work or training you can probably be more flexible with when you start, but make sure you confirm your start date before you jet off anywhere!
Gap year providers
Year Out Group
British Science Association Crest Awards
Photo by Frontier Official - CC Attribution-sharealike