Why take a gap year?

The what, when, why and how of taking a gap year

What is a gap year?

Before we explore why you might want to take a Gap Year, it is important to take a moment to understand what a Gap Year actually is. A Gap Year can really be any structured period of time that builds on your education and advances your career - it doesn’t have to be a year as it can last longer or indeed be a shorter period of time. The exact definition of a Gap Year is “time taken out of work or education for a purpose”.

While the phrase ‘gap year’ may conjure a montage of images from travelling, backpacking, volunteering or working around the world, in reality there is so much variety on offer. If the idea of ‘travelling’ seems a bit aimless, consider a structured gap year program - one of the most popular ways to maximise the potential of your time away.

For practical reasons, a gap year tends to take place in-between life stages, but really there is no set time to take one and no set period of time to be away for.

When should I take a gap year?

The timing of your gap year is a very personal decision. Although popular with students, before or after university is not your only chance to take a gap year. Many older people take career breaks to go travelling, so if you choose not to take a break between school and university, there is no reason why you can’t go travelling at a later date. There is also no reason to limit to time to one year - you can go for more or less time.

Popular times to take a gap year include:

  • After finishing school and before starting university
  • After finishing university and before starting work
  • A “Mini Gap” during university holidays
  • Between a change in career or as a work sabbatical

Should I take a pre-university gap year?

Many higher education institutions approve of gap years and think that a year out before applicants start university is beneficial for an individual to gain independence and maturity so that they start their university course more focussed. Some university admissions teams however are not keen about a break in studying before starting university, so you should check with your chosen university. Some tutors worry that a break will mean that students forget certain academic theory that won’t be used while travelling and so they may advocate a gap year after university and before starting work.

Should I take a gap year during university?

Potentially this is the most difficult time to take a gap year as it can be distracting and difficult to get back into the routine of study afterwards. You could also risk losing your motivation for your subject after a break. As an alternative to an extended gap year, you could consider a ‘mini gap’ during the summer holidays, which wouldn’t be disruptive to your course. It could also complement and strengthen your studies and strengthen your CV.

    Should I take a gap year after university?

    A post university gap year is a great addition to your CV, especially if you do something constructive like teaching or an internship. Taking a gap year at this time in your life often fuels a desire to ‘get the travel bug out of your system’ before you settle down to the constraints of a full-time job. This is also a great time to consider a gap year as you will have no commitments once you have finished studying, and you may know more about what you’d like to do and what skills you need once you begin your career.

    Why take a gap year?

    The reasons why you may wish to take a gap year are personal and often depend on when you decide to take it. Reasons people give for taking a Gap Year often include:

    • Being undecided on whether to go or what to study at university
    • Providing time out after education before starting your career
    • Using your summer months between studying for a purpose
    • Building your CV and gaining work experience
    • Retraining for a new career path
    • Satisfying your need for adventure
    • Helping others by using time to undertake meaningful volunteer work
    • Aiding personal development and self-discovery
    • Looking for an opportunity to meet new people and explore the world!

    Benefits of taking a gap year?

    There is an abundance of anecdotal and measured information about the numerous benefits of taking a gap year and this time is often seen as a cultural rite of passage.

    Some of the advantages of a gap year include:

    A life changing impact

    Often, a gap year can open your eyes to a change in career, or you can meet people who will change the course of your life through differing skills and life experience. This is especially true of people who are unsure of what they want to do next and looking for some inspiration. New cultural experiences also bring greater global awareness.

    A break from everyday life

    Gap years will provide time to reconnect with yourself again. You will be away from the world of work and the routine of your regular life, meaning you will be able to see and experience the world in a new way. If you take a break from education or work, you are sure to re-enter your normal life feeling refreshed and enthusiastic.

    Gain work experience

    A gap year can provide you with invaluable work experience for your CV. Employers won’t be looking to see if you can write a good essay, rather they wish to see proof of some concrete skills on your CV. Structured Gap Year programs provide you with impressive experience from internships and social care to marine scientist and expedition leader training. A gap year can also teach you the ability to work together with all different kinds of people from different cultures and backgrounds

    Personal development

    A gap year provides the time to grow in maturity and build confidence and self sufficiency. You may also wish to perfect your fluency in a foreign language. Whatever you choose to do, people give us feedback on positive personal development.

    How to structure a gap year?

    Once you’ve decided that you want to take a Gap Year, it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to structure it. If you are taking a full year, this is a huge amount of time and will need careful planning to make sure you use your time wisely and productively. Some of the common questions you will need to ask yourself at this stage are:

    What do I want to do?

    Once you start researching options for your Gap Year, the sheer volume of information can become overwhelming. As well as finding something that aligns with your interests and hobbies, a Gap Year is a great opportunity to try something completely new, something you have always wanted to give a go but for whatever reason have not had the chance to. All the while keeping in mind how these experiences may benefit you in the future. Popular areas of interest include:

    • Community Volunteering
    • Wildlife Volunteering
    • Group travel adventures
    • Training courses
    • Paid work & internships

    Where do I want to go?

    The world is your oyster so to speak! It may be that you have somewhere in mind already, a place you’ve always dreamt of going, somewhere you saw in a film when you were younger or heard about recently. Alternatively, once you have decided what you want to do then this will help you narrow down the places that would be a good match. By way of example, popular programs within our portfolio right now include:

    • Marine Conservation in Thailand
    • Expedition Leader Training in Costa Rica
    • Adventure travel and wildlife volunteering in South America
    • Community volunteering in Cambodia
    • Work and travel in Australia

    How much will it cost?

    It is important to establish a budget early on so that you can devise a plan for how you are going to afford it. One of the benefits of choosing a structured program is that you pay for much of your costs like food, accommodation, transfers and activities, upfront so that you reduce the risk of having to cut your trip short if you run out of funds. Flights and travel insurance are two other key components for your financial planning. Whilst there is no simple answer to how much a Gap Year costs as each experience is different, an average cost of an 8 week structured program is £3,500. Once you know your target, you can then set about fundraising, usually a combination of the following:

    • Find a part time or summer job
    • Organise fundraising activities
    • Apply for grants

    This is also an important time to consider some additional points that may be important to you including:

    Sustainable travel

    The meteoric rise of the climate emergency into people’s conscious has forced people to take stock of their actions and think about the impact it has on the planet. Now, more so than ever before, people are choosing travel programs that have robust environmental policies and which support local businesses.


    If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is the importance of looking after ourselves better, and choosing a Gap Year experience that has outdoor education and physical and mental health enhancement built in could form a key part of your planning.

    Health & Safety

    There is inherent risk in travel and therefore doing your homework on safety forms a crucial part of planning. Whist it is impossible to remove risk entirely, choosing a structured provider should have comprehensive risk assessments and evacuation procedures in place as a minimum. It is also worth checking that they follow industry standard and whether this is by self assessment or third party assessment for additional peace of mind.

    What Next?

    We hope this has provided you with some food for thought on your Gap Year plans. We love talking about travel and would be delighted to hear from you with any further questions you may have to help you decide if and when a Gap Year is right for you. Get in touch today!