Gap Year

What is a Gap Year?

Ben Maples  · Feb 23rd 2023

For many, the gap year is a rite of passage. Spending time abroad, learning new things, re-sitting exams or generally trying to learn more about yourself, gap years are a huge part of many people’s university experience.


Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back. Many who apply to university feel that there is something else to learn, either about themselves or the world they live in. Many use it to improve their grades and re-apply to the university of their dreams. Regardless of the reasons, taking a gap year can be an eye-opening experience for those looking to take stock.

Disadvantages of a placement year

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a break away from work or education. Generally, these are used to learn, relax, work or gain experience - you may even have a few gap year ideas of your own.

It is not just students who take gap years. Many workers decide to take gap years, as do people looking for employment. Employers have begun accepting taking a year off work (sometimes known as a sabbatical) as a positive for their workforce.

How long is a gap year?

Despite the name, a gap year does not need to last just one year. There is no rule on how long a gap year needs to be, where you go or what you do.

The length of a gap year is entirely down to you. Some decide to take a few weeks or months away, while many take as many as two or three years, depending on what they are doing and where they are doing it.

It is also possible to split a gap year. Many take some time out and then do the rest later after working for a while.

What is a working gap year?

A working gap year is a break in which you will mostly work. This is a chance to gain skills, earn money or even build up a network of contacts for your future careers.

The most common advantages are that they allow you to discover more about yourself and give you more time to plan your next steps.

People usually tend to take on temporary jobs in a gap year. The most common ones are:

  • Administration and office work.
  • Catering and hospitality.
  • Childcare.
  • Community development.
  • Conservation and sustainable development.
  • Grounds maintenance staff.
  • Product promotion.
  • Teaching English.
  • Teaching or supervising an outdoor activity.
  • Tour guide/operator.
  • Working in agriculture.

Those working abroad will still need to have a visa or work permit. This potentially means finding an employer to sponsor your application, paying the fee and proving that they cannot hire anyone local for the same job. Temporary visas may be a better option.

Year after year

What is a volunteering gap year?

A volunteering gap year is not too different from a working gap year. Working gap years focus on allowing you to build contacts and gain experience; volunteering gap years are the same; however, you will not be paid for any work you do.

Typically, you will work with registered charities, non-profit organisations or local governments. Volunteering gap years are often taken abroad, as they tend to offer shorter work placements and allow for greater flexibility.

What do you do when your gap year is over?

That, ultimately, is up to you. Generally, it is good to return home and recharge your batteries. If you have been abroad, you must try and get past any jet lag or re-adjust to your own culture.

A gap year is a break away from work or education.

Many people find that their sense of direction has changed after a university gap year. Those who wanted to go to university have, sometimes, decided not to go anymore and have instead decided to move straight into the world of work.

Others may decide to prepare for a fresh application to university. As someone who has been able to take a year out gaining experience or re-sitting exams, you may feel that you are now ready to take your next steps.

How to pay for a gap year

This will be your responsibility. Gap years, much like university, can be funded through bursaries, grants and scholarships, but, for the most part, you will need to fund them yourself.

Ultimately, it depends on what kind of gap year you intend to take and where you intend to take it. It is generally recommended that you find a job of some kind, be it abroad or at home, to support your endeavours.

Gap year UCAS

What are the benefits of a gap year?

There are always pros and cons to a gap year. The most common advantages are that they allow you to discover more about yourself and give you more time to plan your next steps.

How much you learn about yourself or other cultures depends on what kind of gap year you take and where. Typically, gap years help you to develop important and transferable skills such as budget management, planning and communication skills. If you take your gap year abroad, you will also gain more cultural awareness and improve your language skills.

Gap years can work wonders for confidence levels too. Many who take a gap year have said that their confidence and independence benefitted greatly from a gap year. You can learn new crafts and, if you are working, you can also have the chance to raise more money for when you eventually start university.

A volunteering gap year is not too different from a working gap year.

Can I take a gap year before university?

This is the most common time for people to take a gap year. You can take a gap year whenever you like. However, most students take them before they go to university for various reasons.

The most common reason people take a gap year is to re-sit examinations. If you have not achieved the grades you wanted or feel you could have done better and don’t want to apply through Clearing, re-siting exams are perfect for you and for applying to university after a gap year.

Can I take a gap year during university?

Yes, you can. You can take a gap year whenever you choose. However, you will need to speak to your university to inform them of your decision.

This means that your remaining studies will be considered “deferred”. You can return when you are happy to, but you must also be aware of the potential setbacks. Your classmates will now be a year ahead of you in their studies, and it can be hard to return to your studies if you have been away from education for a while.

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