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Should I Take A Gap Year?

More and more students are choosing to take a gap year, either before or after starting their university education.

Whether you choose to get a job to pay for your degree, volunteer in an orphanage in Africa or travel round the world, a gap year has many advantages.

First of all though...

What is a Gap year?

A Gap year is a 12 month break from study taken by some students before they start their degree, to help them gain work experience and valuable life skills.

Some people choose to take their gap year before starting sixth form, before they start a postgraduate course or even after they have completed all formal education, before entering the worforce.

Whenever you decide to take your gap year, there are many different things you can choose to do: volunteer, get a paid job, learn new skills, or travel round the world.

There is something to suit every taste, so if a gap year sounds like an attractive option to you, read the rest of our Gap Year Guide to find out more!

Why should I take a Gap year?

There are many benefits of taking a gap year, including:

#1 New challenges

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but never feel you could actually do it? Want to climb a mountain but are afraid of heights?

Want to trek through a jungle but scared of being bitten by insects?

Everyone has their fears, but there are loads of people out there to help you face your challenges and reap the rewards. A gap year is a great time to think about things you would like to achieve and take steps toward doing so.

#2 Experiencing life 

A Gap year is the chance to be completely independent and gain a meaningful experience, an opportunity you may not have again later on in your life.

It will help improve your self-confidence, along with personal skills such as communication, leadership and organisation.

#3 Discovering exciting places

If you choose to go travelling, you will see and explore parts of the world you’ve always wanted to visit.

Learning and working alongside people will also allow you to discover a different culture.

By having the freedom to travel around and choose how long you spend in each place, you will have plenty of time to fit in everything you want to do.

Building friendships on your journey is a certainty, and you will have some fantastic stories to tell everyone when you get back home!

#4 Learning

By the time you have completed your gap year, you will have gained new skills and experiences. These might include budgeting, organisation, time management and teamwork. This is especially true if you are heading abroad for work experience.

These will enhance a CV and a UCAS application, meaning you will be looked more favourably upon by potential employers and university admissions tutors, as you will stand out from other candidates by having done something interesting.

If English isn't widely spoken in the countries you are visiting, then you will easily improve your language skills by picking up new words and phrases every day. This will help you build relationships with the local people and maybe even improve your job prospects when you return.

#5 Personal achievement

Undertaking a Gap year volunteer project or going abroad to learn a language can give you a real sense of personal achievement.

Although you may find it challenging, it will also be very rewarding, as well as the chance to experience local life in another country first-hand and give something to their communities.

Take a look at our Gap Year agencies to find projects you might be interested in.

#6 Money

Many students these days take a year out to do paid work to finance their higher education.

With university tuition fees in the UK now at a maximum of £9,000, students are opting to work in order to pay off some of the costs before they even start their degree.

If you plan to travel during your gap year, a paid job for some of those 12 months is likely to be essential.

There are hundreds of temporary jobs to apply for so you can raise the cash you need for your travels.

If you already have a particular career in mind, then getting a paid job in your field is a bonus. This will boost your CV and look good to employers when you’ve finished your degree, or start looking for jobs after your Gap year if you decided university isn’t right for you.

#7 Time out to decide if university is right for you

You’ve been in school for most of your life, so it’s natural to feel you simply just want some time away from studying.

Taking a break will make you feel refreshed so you will be more focussed at university.

It also gives you time to reflect on what you plan to do next with your life. This includes whether applying to university was the right decision, or considering your career options if you’re going straight into employment.

Some students change their degree course and/or future profession as a result of their gap year, so the experiences from taking a year out can prove invaluable.

Although you may have decided a gap year appeals to you and you want to take one, cast an eye over the following factors that may be considered disadvantages, in case they cast any doubt on your decision.

  • Friends will be a year ahead of you
  • When you come back you might not want to go to university anymore having had such a long break from studying
  • Your study skills may have diminished
  • Risk of getting injured or sick
  • Experience could turn out to be a disappointment

If you still feel a gap year is the right option for you, check out some of the best gap year escape plans over at our blog.

Will taking a gap year affect my chances of getting a job?

Employers will usually have to sift through many applications, so a gap year is a fantastic way to make yours stand out. At the interview stage, you can talk about your experiences and relate lots of interesting examples of what you did during your time out.

By using a gap year as an opportunity to develop key skills, gain experience in a particular area, or try out different industries, you'll show that you're taking your career path seriously and everything you have learned will be viewed as a positive by employers.

However, if you don't really do anything during your gap year, it's much harder to justify your trip to organisations you'd like to work for and so could be viewed as an unexpected gap on your CV. To ensure this doesn't happen, create a plan detailing what you want to achieve by the end of it.

When is the best time to take my gap year?

Many students opt to take their year out before they start university, but this isn't always the case. Some choose to wait until they have finished their degree and enjoy a break before entering the world of work.

This can give you time to reflect on what you've achieved and decide what step you would like to take next. It can also help build skills and experiences that will give your CV a boost.

Alternatively, starting a job straight away after university will mean a regular income that you can start using to pay off your student loan and put toward rent or a house deposit.

However, it is not a good idea to take a year out during your degree once you have started, since it will be hard to return to your studies and your peers will have already moved on. You may also find it difficult to explain your decision to your potential employers, as they could see the break as a lack of commitment.

You can still travel, volunteer and work during the long summer break instead, which will help you learn new skills and gain experience that you can put on your CV. This will demonstrate good planning skills on your part, without affecting your studies.

Some degree programmes offer a sandwich year, where you get to work for 12 months (often abroad), allowing you to get valuable work experience under your belt before you have even completed your degree.

If you are considering applying for a graduate employer scheme, you will need to think about when to send off your application, what's involved in the recruitment process and when you might have to start.

Remember, it's always best to have a plan of action for what you will do next when you come back from your gap year, otherwise you could end up feeling deflated after such a long time away from a routine.

For more information about Gap years, please see the rest of our Gap year guide.