How does a gap year 'bridge the gap' between education and employment?


University places and graduate jobs are becoming increasingly competitive and there has never been a better time for students to take a well-structured gap year and really set themselves apart from the competition. But does a gap year help you get a job? Is a gap year just getting drunk on a beach?

The rise in students achieving top grades means that universities and employers can afford tobe more selective and are increasingly looking for candidates who bring something different to the table. Employers say they want more than just grades. They seek a motivated applicant, confident, with life skills who can work positively in any environment. So, are getting good grades enough? Do the hours of study in a library really prepare you for the modern working day?

The gap year industry has evolved to accommodate this trend and is now a very different proposition to 10 years ago when it was often viewed as a rite of passage - just getting drunk on a beach is in the past! Today, joining a gap year program is being viewed as the first step in a new career as opposed to the last holiday after education.

Gap year vs mini-gap?

A common assumption about a gap year is that students must take a year out of education. Whilst this is still a popular option, it is by no means the only option. More and more students are choosing to take a mini-gap of 2-3 months in their summer break, in fact it is now possible to choose a gap experience anywhere from 2 weeks to a year.

What do others think?

Another common misconception about a gap year is that it is not looked on favourably by universities and employers. Whilst thereare always exceptions to the rule, this is very misleading as in most cases both universities and employers actively encourage well structured gap years as a way of helping performance at university and increasing employability. A well constructed gap year is supported by:

UCAS says: "Each year thousands of UCAS applicants opt to defer entry to university or college. Taking a gap year gives you a rare opportunity to enjoy new experiences and learn new skills. Whatever you’re interested in, this is your chance to try something new, so make the most of it. A well-structured and planned year out can set you apart from others when going to university or looking for work, so it is essential that you carefully plan and prepare for your gap year. Many employers and universities will look favourably on applicants who have used their year out to gain valuable experience. Whether it’s travel, paid work, volunteering or studying that you’re interested in, don’t waste this opportunity to try something different!"
AGR says: According to a recent survey by the AGR, 88% of recruiters think a well-structured gap year helps equip you with the soft skills you may not have acquired while studying. Vice chairman Terence Perrin says: “Overall, gap years are viewed very positively. Communication skills, leadership, organisation and motivation are all important. One thing that impresses employers is that graduates come back more mature and with more insight into themselves and the world. I think recruiters recognise that after a year’s travel there’s a lot more to bring to the table. They have left the security of their home looking for a new challenge and for that you need independence, motivation and confidence.”

What gap year program options are available to me?

The next big shift in the industry is a move towards more vocational, practical experience which will directly enhance a student’s CV or personal statement:

Marine & Wildlife Conservation

Volunteering on a conservation project overseas is an exciting and rewarding experience. It provides individuals with hands- on experience whilst helping the long-term ecological and economic stability for environment and communities under threat.

Who is it for: Anyone with a keen interest in wildlife and the environment impact and these experiences are often viewed by returning Gappers as the most memorable aspect of their time abroad.

Related university courses: Earth & Marine Sciences, Geography and Environmental studies, Veterinary Science.

Expeditions and Adventure Travel

There is an expedition in everyone! Combining worthwhile project work with adventure travel on an expedition to a remote region of the world is a life changing experience and equips participants with valuable life skills including leadership and teamwork.

Who is it for: Anyone up for a challenge who wants to try something completely different!

Related university courses: Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography & Environmental studies.

Community Volunteering Projects

Good medical practice begins with hands-on experience and a worldly knowledge, both of which you will receive when you take part in a healthcare project. Whether it be shadowing Expedition Doctors in the jungles of Central America, working with the International Red Cross in Ecuador or hospital work in Africa, these projects provide a fascinating insight into a different healthcare systemas well as providing invaluable experience for a CV or personal statement.

Who is it for: Anyone with an interest in other cultures and communities

Related university courses: Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Midwifery, Physiotherapy

Outdoor Training Courses

Many organisations now offer qualificationsto help boost your CV, for example Expedition Leader Training, Ski Instructor Training and Marine Scientist Training - all of which equip you with lifelong qualifications and opportunity to explore other career avenues.

Just Do it!

In summary, the definition of a gap year has certainly changed in recent years to adapt to trends in the job market, but the benefits remain unchanged. In an increasingly competitive world, the experiences gained on a gap year have never been more significant and I urge anyone considering taking a gap year to go for 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 or call Gapforce on 0207 384 3028.