A parent's guide to gap years

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Backpacks stacked up in a shop

Gap years provide a breathing space for those who need a year out of education, give young people a chance to consider the options ahead of them or offer a second chance to students who aren't happy with their first set of university offers.

In this guide, we explain the benefits of gap years for parents - as well as the different kinds of gap year your child could enjoy.

'Confused by gaps years? Check out this guide for parents'

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Young woman sitting on a rock gazing out over a valley
Travel is a popular gap year option - but it's not the
only way to benefit from a year out

What’s a gap year all about?

Gap years are often associated with travelling, but there’s so much more your child can do. Gaining work experience can be really valuable. Students can do this by volunteering on projects overseas, or finding internships and paid jobs closer to home. If your child isn’t sure whether to go on to university or go straight into work after school, a gap year can be a good chance for them to explore their options.

Why should your child 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 working on projects abroad or finding internships and paid jobs at home. Your child may not be sure whether to go on to university or go straight into work after school or college, so a gap year can be a good chance for them to explore their options.

Who can help your child plan their gap year?

There are a range of gap year providers which offer organised travel, work and volunteering programmes, as well as useful planning tools. Frontier, Real Gap and Gap Year Association are just some of the sites to look at. We’ve also got loads of helpful guidance in the gap year section of Success at School, covering everything from what your child should take with them to how they can plan your travels.

How long does a gap year last?

Gap year work and study programmes can last anywhere from two weeks to 12 months, so your child can choose a period of time to suit them. If they want to take a break between school and university, they’ll need to wait until the following September to join the next intake of students. However, they may be able to enrol in a summer school before their course starts.

Your child can find out about these direct from your local university or the university they’re heading to. If they’re going into work or training your child can probably be more flexible, but make sure they confirm their start date before they head off anywhere!

So what can your child do on their gap year?

It’s key that they use their time well and make a plan to give the year structure. Travelling is a popular choice, but there are lots of other options. Gap Year Association is a good website to explore to find out what’s on offer. Some even allow students to travel and gain valuable experience: win-win!

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are plenty of green options that don’t involve flying – an Interrail pass is a cost-effective way for a young person to travel all over Europe.


Volunteer in Oxfam
Volunteering is one way of getting work experience
during a gap year

Volunteering opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. If your child is looking for voluntary work in the UK, websites like Do-it and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations are good places to start the search. Your child can find opportunities where they can use the skills they’ve developed by studying English to make a difference.

There are also plenty of volunteering opportunities overseas. Gap year providers like Real Gap, Travellers Abroad and Frontier are good places to look at what’s available. Whatever voluntary work your child is doing, it’s also a good idea to set up a personal blog. It’s simple to create a blog using the likes of WordPress, Wix, Tumblr or Blogger. This way your child can showcase their written communication skills.

Paid work

There are lots of places your child can find paid work during a gap year. If they want to travel, teaching English as a foreign language is a great option. To get paid for this, they’ll need to take a short TEFL qualification first. If they don’t want to teach, they should take a look at the overseas internships available through Go Overseas. They’ll find jobs in areas such as marketing, communications, journalism, digital media and public relations. This will allow them to travel to and work in countries including Australia, South Africa and Spain.

If your child would rather have an internship or summer job in the UK, they should sign up to a website like StudentJob. For students and graduates at UK universities, websites like e4s and RateMyPlacement are also useful. Many top companies advertise paid placements, internships and graduate schemes on these platforms.


Travelling and studying is also an option. Forum Nexus is one provider that offers a summer programme of studying and travelling. Students can visit various European cities on its Ultimate Summer in Europe programme and study at top universities along the way. There are financial aid and scholarship options too.

Go Overseas also lists various study abroad opportunities, with courses in everything from journalism to marketing on offer. In the UK, the Sutton Trust runs summer schools in various subjects through 13 UK universities. They’re designed for students who are aged 17 or 18, and are free, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

Covid-19 travel warning
Covid-19 might limit gap-year students' ability to travel
or have implications for them on returning home

Gap years in the age of Covid-19

If you are reading this in 2020 or early 2021, we don’t yet know how the pandemic situation will change over the coming months. It may be that travel restrictions will limit your child’s ability to travel during their gap year.

This is not a reason for them to ditch the idea altogether if they need a breather before going on to next stage of their lives. They could consider working or volunteering locally. However, if their priority is international travel, they may want to consider saving their gap year till after university or when their apprenticeship ends – or for a career break a few years down the line.

Learn more about gap years in our gap years section for students.

Images: Backpacks stacked up via Wikimedia Commons, Oxfam volunteer by allispossible.org via Flickr, Covid warning via Geograph


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