Why should I take a gap year?

We answer all your questions about whether and why you should take a gap year.

In 2004 Prince Harry made the term 'gap year' commonplace when he decided to take some time out by travelling around the world. Amongst many other places, he took part in a volunteering project in Lesotho where he helped on the ground in Africa. Working with orphans in Lesotho made a life-changing impact on the Prince, inspiring him to later set up his own charity, Sentebale.

The reasons why you may wish to take a gap year are personal and often depend on when you decide to take it. For Prince Harry, a gap year allowed him to find a role in society and gave direction to his teenage ambition to help people.

For students who have finished school but not yet chosen a university, a gap year can allow them to step off the institutional treadmill and into an adventure that will make them more prepared when they arrive at university and more focused in their education going forward.

A constructive gap year spent doing work experience and gaining key life skills will be CV-enhancing and if you choose to do paid work while on your gap year, it can also boost your bank balance.

Those who choose to take a work sabbatical or want to take a gap year between a change of jobs or a change in career direction can use their experience and skillset to help others, such as offering teaching or managerial skills or medical aid. Some might see it as a change of scenery or to take their career in a new direction.

What is a gap year?

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.

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?

People often take a gap year in their education between the 18 years of school and the next 3 plus years of university. Others take a gap year after years of the routine 9 to 5 job.

The timing of your gap year is a very personal decision, but there are pros and cons of going before or after university or taking a sabbatical from the working world that might help you come to a decision.

Popular times to take a gap year include:

  • Before university
  • After university
  • Between a change in career
  • During university holidays
  • As a work sabbatical

Although popular with students, prior to 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.

A Gapforce gap year program gives you the life skills that employers seek, whatever your stage in life. Our programs are open to everyone - both graduates and non-graduates alike.

Can 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 a sense of self sufficiency before they live away from home on campus.

A gap year ahead of beginning your university education can:

  • Help to gain independence and maturity
  • Pay towards your university expenses if you plan to earn a salary abroad
  • Give you extra time to decide if the subject you’ve signed up to study really is right for you

Can 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.

A gap year after university is ideal as:

  • You will have no commitments once you have finished studying
  • You can follow your dreams, heading to that one place you want to tick off the bucket list
  • You can travel with friends and make new friends along the way
  • You may know more about what you’d like to do and what skills you need once you begin your career
  • You can boost your CV with desirable skills and experience before you enter the job market

What are the 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. New cultural experiences also bring greater global awareness.

Following his gap year in Lesotho, Prince Harry has returned to the area several times to see what progress has been made on the many projects set up by his charity Sentebale - or ‘forget me not’. Without a doubt, Prince Harry will never regret his decision to take a gap year in Africa as it turned out to be a pivotal moment in his life.

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. Gapforce gap year programs are structured and 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 defer university for a gap year?

Many universities are happy for applicants to take a gap year, as for many it can help with their application since time spent travelling abroad may provide invaluable work experience on their chosen subject.

Some university admissions teams 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.

Students can defer their application or they can delay their application until the following year.

Whether you choose to defer or delay, talk about your planned gap year in your UCAS personal statement so that the admissions team can see how the gap year will benefit your studies at university.

Deferred entry

The UCAS system gives an option to defer by one year, so even if you are planning to take a gap year you can still apply to university in your final year of school. This reduces any uncertainty during your gap year and it also means that you will have your school teachers help for the UCAS application.

If you choose to defer your university place, make sure that you keep in touch with your university during your time away so that you are aware of any changes or updates.

Applying after results day

You can also choose to delay your application, but completing a UCAS application for the following year while you are travelling could be difficult. You will also not have the support from your school teachers should you need it.

Written by James Catterall, general manager at Gapforce. James took a gap year after university and travelled through Australia. For specific advice on taking a gap year, email James at james@gapforce.org or call Gapforce on 0207 384 3028.

Will a gap year affect me getting a job?

According to a survey by Milkround, 88% of graduates reported that their gap year made them more employable.

Taking a gap year can be beneficial both personally and professionally, making you stand out when you need to, such as in a job interview.

Some companies and graduate schemes will allow you to interview before you leave for your gap year and they will give you the job or place on the graduate scheme for you to take up on your return. This will give you peace of mind when you are away that you are returning to a secure job or placement.

If you decide to take a gap year with no firm job offer on your return, you’ll need to explain the gap in your CV when you start applying for jobs. However, most companies won’t regard your gap year as a hole in your CV, especially if you choose a structured gap year gaining work experience on the way with skills that you can list and transfer into the workplace.

"People who take a gap year earn more money in their first job than those that miss out on a gap year"
Survey of 3,000 graduates