Many young people decide to take a year out but struggle when it comes to gap year ideas. While the idea of spending the year in front of the TV might be tempting, you’re in the enviable position of being able to suit yourself – so make the most of this precious time in your life.
If you’re undecided about how to spend your year out, then you need to start by asking yourself why you’re taking one. In this post, we’ll show you that there’s a gap year job for you whatever your reasons for taking a break.
I’m on a year out! Why should I get a job?
A gap year job is a great way to use your year out to broaden your skills and experience – which will put you in a great position when you start applying for permanent roles when you leave university.
You don’t have to miss out on all the fun a year out is renowned for! There are plenty of gap year jobs that will take you to exotic locations overseas. In many ways, you’ll learn a lot more from working in another culture and an unfamiliar environment than you ever would at home, so as well as being exciting, this can be just as good for your CV!
You can also learn a lot about yourself on a gap year. You may decide that three more years of study is not for you, and that you’re ready to begin your career straight away. You might even discover the perfect career, and use your gap-year job as a stepping stone into this career. That’s the great thing about life – you never know where it might take you!
I’m convinced! Now give me some gap year ideas…
Of course, the first thing you should ask yourself is why you’re taking a gap year. Is it because:
- You’re uncertain about what you want to do next?
- You want to earn some money?
- You’re going to university but need a break from education?
- You’d like to learn more about the world?
How you answer this question will very much influence what you choose to do on your gap year, but it doesn’t have to restrict where you go and what you see. But it will give you a helpful framework to make sure you get the most out of your year out in the long run.
'Knowing what you want to achieve in your year out will help you shortlist gap year jobs'
I want a break or some time to think
A job will give you an insight into what working is really like and, should you decide you don’t want to go to university, it will stand you in good stead for the world of work. The skills and experience you pick up will benefit your job applications, particularly as more than half of employers say that work experience is the most desirable feature of a graduate’s CV.
I need some money!
If you want to raise some funds to support yourself through university... well, we don’t need to tell you why getting a job is a good idea. You could choose to combine this with travel and sightseeing, just don’t forget you’ll need to earn more than you save if you want to have any left to take with you into higher education.
I want to see the world
If you want to see the world before embarking on the next stage of your life, then the chances are you’ll want to travel all over the world. This doesn’t mean you can’t work – there are plenty of opportunities to take on casual jobs, whether it’s relatively high-skilled, such as teaching English to students, or working behind a bar.
You’ll be particularly well equipped for this if you speak lots of languages. And on the flipside, you’ll build up your linguistic skills, which may well come in handy further down the line.
So what gap year jobs can I do?
Humanitarian work and volunteering
Many gap year students choose to spend the year helping people and communities less fortunate than themselves. This gives you a new perspective on the world and helps to broaden your horizons. It can also enable you to develop skills you wouldn’t necessarily get as an 18-year-old back home, such as initiative, resilience under pressure, and qualities like compassion and the ability to see the bigger picture.
There’s plenty of scope as well, from helping to build schools, to helping charities with their work. However, while it sounds very noble and worthwhile, it’s important to make sure that what you’re doing is sustainable, and that your role will help not hinder the effort. There are lots of companies offering gap year volunteering opportunities, and while many connect you with important charity work, it’s important to remember that they’re out to make a profit.
We suggest contacting charities first as they will be able to use you where the need is greatest. Take a look at our article on gap year volunteering to learn more about how to choose a volunteering opportunity.
Most but not all of these opportunities will be voluntary, so if earning money is your primary motive, this is probably not the best option for you.
Teaching English as a foreign language
Another way to use your gap year in a socially responsible way is to teach English as a foreign language. You can do this at home in the UK, and in Europe as well as other parts of the world. Unless you choose to teach voluntarily in poorer communities, you will usually be paid for this.
You will need to have a Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification, which you’ll need to study for. The most widely accepted ones are available through well-known institutions like Cambridge English and Trinity College London, but these can be expensive and take a lot of time. In many parts of the developing world, however, a simple online TEFL qualification will be enough.
Schools in some countries will want you to have a teaching qualification. Obviously it’s important to find out about specific requirements in the country you want to travel to before making plans.
This is a great step if you’re planning a career as a teacher, as you can see whether the demands of classroom management and communicating with young people are for you. It will also give you great experience to bring into the classroom and show potential employers that you have the edge on other candidates.
Gap year training programmes
Some big employers offer students the chance to test the water in their industry by spending a year in a paid gap year placement. This can be a great opportunity if you're not sure what you want to do next, as it will allow you to develop within a structured programme which gives you a mix of transferable skills and technical skills specific to your role. You'll also be paid a wage, get time off, and are often entitled to other employee benefits, such as private healthcare, as well.
The benefits can be enormous whatever you choose to do next. If they like you, your employer could well offer you the chance to stay on (they're running the scheme to find next talent, of course), but even if you go to university, you'll have a foot in the door for internships and eventually a graduate position. You'll also have some great skills to put on your CV if you decide to pursue another path.
Schemes like this are offered by many employers, including IT company IBM, professional services company Deloitte and law firm Pinsent Masons.
Spotlight on: IBM's Gap Year programme
If you have a gift for writing, there are plenty of ways you can make money – from anywhere in the world. This is a great, easy way to help fund your travels if you want to see the world, or to build up some finances if you’re off to uni.
Check out sites like Upwork, Fiver and Freelancer as there are lots of writing opportunities you can apply for – most of these sites use a bidding system where you advertise your minimum rate and employers choose you based on this, reviews and your past experience.
You’ll probably have to start low but if you do a good job, you’ll quickly be able to increase your rate and still get work. Just make sure you don’t undersell yourself – think about whether the time and effort is worth what you’re being paid. Also, beware of pricing yourself by the word as quality isn’t the same as quantity and you won’t work at your best this way.
There are similar freelance opportunities for those of you with design and programming skills.
If you’ve excelled in your exams, it’s quite possible you’d be a great candidate to pass on some of your wisdom to other young people. You can earn upwards of £25 per hour as a private tutor.
You’ll be offering a fantastic service which really helps young people who might be struggling to get through their exams, so make sure you price yourself competitively and don’t undersell yourself just because you’re young.
If you’ve got a knack for it, you may even be able to offer a better service than people much older than you, because you’ve just come through the exams yourself. But take some advice from your teachers as there’s more to teaching than just telling people stuff!
You can do this at home or while you're travelling, depending on language requirements. Bear in mind that you will need to plan ahead, and that the going rate might vary in different parts of the world.
Stay at home
If your number one priority is to make some money to support yourself through your studies, then the best choice might be to stay at home and find a job locally. That way, you’ll keep your costs low (although your parents might expect you to pay some rent), and very likely earn more than you would overseas.
You’ll find that there are plenty of fixed-term contracts in customer service or clerical jobs, and you can earn anywhere from £11,000 per year upwards. This will help you develop important transferable skills such as communication and teamwork.
If you have connections from your work experience, you could find a role more closely connected with your longer-term career plans, which will boost your CV as well as your savings.
Again, you might find your gap year job turns out to be a better choice than university and becomes the first step in your career.
Bar work is a popular choice for students who want to travel, and although it’s quite labour intensive and relatively low skilled, it will help you finance your trip, and give you access to a surprising range of transferable skills, from working under pressure to people skills, as well as both teamwork and independent working.
Don’t expect to earn a huge amount of money – it’s really an option if travel is your priority. You’ll also need to have reasonable language skills if you’re working in a country where English isn’t the main language.
Don’t forget that the transferable skills you pick up on your gap year are by their very nature valuable across a wide range of jobs and industries. Whatever you end up doing, getting the right job can really help you balance fun, experience and planning ahead during your gap year.