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Taking a Gap Year

Is a gap year right for me?

Many students decide to take a gap year before they begin university. This can be a productive way to spend a year and is viewed as a positive experience by many universities and employers. However, you must use your year constructively in order to show it was worthwhile.

Most universities are happy with students taking a gap year although it is important to check this carefully in advance. For some courses it might not be wise to take a gap year due to the
length of the course (eg medicine or architecture) or the competition for places.

Productive gap years can however be very worthwhile by providing an opportunity to broaden your horizons,  learn new things,  challenge yourself and ponder future career options.  Undertaking charity work or gaining work experience (eg teaching) in this country or abroad, or undertaking a
project with one of the many gap year organisations may also help later on when applying for jobs.

If you are thinking of taking a year out, here are some things to consider.

A gap year usually means taking a year out in between your studies - often at 18 and after level 3 qualifications, like A Levels. There are lots of things you could do on a gap year like travelling, working or volunteering.

Some people apply and get a place at university and then ask for their place to be deferred so that they can have a gap year.

Careers Advice for Young PeopleA gap year can offer a great opportunity to develop personal and employability skills or to get experience working in a job area of interest or to meet people from different cultures. Also, some people use their gap year to confirm what sort of job or career they are interested in before they choose their next step.

There are companies which will help you plan your gap year but be warned it all costs money! If you want the experience of a gap year to help you plan your future work or want to use it to show future employers evidence of your skills or independence, then try and make sure you balance the fun elements with developing useful skills for the future.

Also, sell what you have learnt through the experience of a gap year in your applications for jobs and courses.

What you could do

There is a whole range of things you could do during your gap year, like:
  • Travel 
  • Teach abroad 
  • Volunteer to work on a project at home or abroad (see below!)
  • Work in a paid position to save some money for university 
  • Gain some unpaid work experience 
  • Undertake further study or training 

The pros and cons of a gap year


  • You may feel more energised and refreshed after a gap year, which could lead to you feeling more motivated towards your studies 
  • You may have the chance to work or study in an area related to your course, which will help prepare you for your further studies 
  • You may have the opportunity to travel, see new places and have new experiences 
  • If you decide on paid work you can earn some money to help finance your degree 
  • You could gain a sense of real personal achievement through your gap year activities 
  • A year of more independent living can mean that you are more mature when you begin university 
  • If you decide to work or volunteer you can gain new skills and develop existing ones 


  • You may find it hard to settle back into your studies 
  • You may not be able to discipline yourself for independent study when you return 
  • It could be expensive, for example if you decide to travel or do unpaid work experience 
  • Your friends may go off to university while you will be a year behind them 
  • If you don’t spend it productively this could give employers a bad impression 

Prepare yourself

  • If you want to take a gap year, you’ll need to decide what you want to do and then plan it carefully. 
  • When deciding what to do, make sure you understand your reasons for a gap year, as this will point you in the right direction 
  • A useful starting point is the Prospects gap year guide
  • Research the options so you make the right decisions – there are a lot of organisations which can give you gap year ideas and more information about what’s involved – see links below 
  • Gap year organisations can be helpful, but you don’t have to use one. Make sure you shop around to find the best deal and the gap year that’s right for you 
  • Set yourself goals, so you know what you want to accomplish in your year out 
  • Plan your finances, so you don’t get into debt. Think about how much you need to earn and/or how much you will spend 

A special note on Volunteering Abroad

Although there are some good placement companies out there, a do-it-yourself placement is the most ethical form of volunteering as you work directly with the host organisation. It is going to cost you a lot less and you also have the assurance that any money paid goes directly to the cause rather than paying for the marketing and administration expenses of a gap year or volunteer placement company. If you opt to work through a 'sending' company please be aware that some of these offer little more than glorified holidays and others are more interested in making money than helping the environment or providing sustainable and well-targeted help for local communities. No one benefits from these placements apart from the companies that organise them.

Completing the UCAS form

If you want to take a gap year, you can still apply to universities one year in advance. You will need to indicate the year that you wish to start on your UCAS form.

Further Information:

Advice for Parents:

Advice on Backpacking:

Advice on Volunteering Abroad:

How to Ethically Volunteer Anywhere in the World

Volunteering FAQ 

Orphanage Scams - how to avoid

Responsible Gap Year Companies:

Year Out Group