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Article: Higher Education - Taking a Gap Year


This article looks at opportunities available to people who want to take a year out before going on to college or university.

Video: - Various: Gap Year


After more than ten years of school, homework, studying and exams, for some people it's time to take a break before they go to college or university. For some, taking a year off can turn out to be the experience of a lifetime.

The important thing is to weigh up the pros and cons of taking a year out, make some firm decisions about what you intend to do, and then plan carefully to make sure that everything goes well.

Good things that could come from your gap year

  • a year out offers a break from studying and the chance to think about your future
  • the chance to see new places and cultures
  • you can earn some money, which you could use to fund travel, buy something big, like a car, or help you through your student years
  • you'll develop as a person, be more independent and ready for student and adult life

Bad things that could come from your gap year

  • after a year of doing your own thing, it might be difficult to return to student life
  • if you go travelling, you might find that you can't settle back into normal, everyday life
  • if you don't plan and budget properly, you might find yourself with money troubles

What can you do during your year out?

Your choices are simple:

  • you can work
  • you can study
  • you can travel

Of course, you can do a mixture of the above, or just stick to one. Thinking about how you'll pay for things is key. If you're very lucky, you'll have savings but most people need to work either before the year out, or at some point during it.

Working during your year out

Paid work

If you've already decided on your future career, this is the perfect chance for you to get some relevant work experience.

If you want to go into law, for example, you could try to find a position in a solicitor's office; if you are heading for a career as a store manager, you could get some retail experience. This will always look good on your CV.

You could always work abroad, of course. There are various websites set up to help you find vacancies. Just do a search for something like 'working abroad' and see what comes up. Or, look at the links at the end of this article. Always research any organisation offering vacancies though. It's a big decision so don't rush into anything.

Voluntary work

A good starting point for finding out about voluntary work is the website Volunteering England. Once you're on their site, click on 'I want to volunteer' and then either search for volunteering vacancies using the 'Do-it' database, or look for your local centre using the 'Volunteer Centre Finder.'

For volunteering abroad, you could always try the VSO. They're a well respected organisation that's been around since 1958.

As well as the VSO, there are several other organisations that could help you find a volunteering vacancy. As with paid work though, you should research companies before making any major decisions.

Travelling during your year out

If you decide to travel during your year out, you need to plan well ahead and make sure that you have enough money. Whether you decide to travel in Europe or go further afield, there are a number of things you'll want to consider.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website has lots of useful general advice about taking a gap year, plus information on specific countries.


You might want to work to raise some money for your trip before you go, or maybe take a chance on being able to find short spells of work during your travels. It's advisable to at least have access to enough money to pay for your food and accommodation though.


Make sure that you get insurance cover for your belongings and for medical costs. If you are travelling in Europe, make sure that you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). You can apply online or by application form (available from main post offices).

The EHIC card entitles you to free or reduced cost healthcare in a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland. The EEA countries are those in the European Union plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

You will still need insurance cover, even with the EHIC. If you think you might take part in any adventure activities while you are away, make sure that your insurance covers these.


If you're travelling outside the EU, it's likely that you will need a visa. Some visas only cover travel within the country, so you could need another permit if you want to work there.

People working without the right paperwork can be thrown out of the country if they are found out; in some cases, they can be banned from ever returning (even for a holiday).

Contact the embassies or consulates of the countries you intend to visit to find out about visa requirements.


You may need to have some vaccinations before you go on your travels, especially for Asia, South and Central America and Africa. Your GP will be able to tell you what you need for each country.

If you take any medicine on a regular basis, make sure that you visit your GP in advance to get supplies. Check that your prescription medicine is legal in the country you are visiting. Keep the medicine in its original packaging and take a note from your doctor.

Studying during your year out

You might decide that you want to do some studying abroad while on your year out. The biggest advantage of studying abroad is to improve your language skills and many employers look favourably on applicants who can speak another language.

There are several organisations that can help you organise a study trip. For example, CESA Languages (a member of the Year Out Group) offers study programmes in a number of countries. However, you will have to pay for these programmes.

What to do about your university application

You can apply to university and defer entry until after your year out. Just apply to UCAS as normal and opt to defer the course for one year.

Most universities look favourably on applicants who want to defer their course for a year, as long as you make it clear on your UCAS form how you intend to spend your time. Explain why you're taking a gap year and what you hope to achieve from it. If what you'll be doing has any relation to the course you'll be taking, mention that too.

Further Information

The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)

Address: Sedum House, Mallard Way, Doncaster DN4 8DB

Tel: 01302 388883



Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)

Address: King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH

Tel: 020 7008 1500




Address: Rosehill, New Barn Lane, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL52 3LZ

Tel: 0871 4680468



Volunteer Work Abroad (VSO UK)

Address: 27a Carlton Drive, Putney, London SW15 2BS

Tel: 020 8780 7500



The Mix

Support and information services 25 year-olds and under



Working Adventures Worldwide

Address: 16 Bowling Green Lane, London EC1R 0QH

Tel: 020 7251 3472



Camp America

Tel: 020 7581 7373


Community Service Volunteers (CSV)

Address: 237 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NJ

Tel: 020 7278 6601



Tel: 0113 2660880




Volunteering opportunities

Address: 5th floor, Dean Bradley House, 52 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF

Tel: 020 7060 7000



Year Out Group (YOG)



Address: 12 Hutchings Road, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire HP9 2BB

Tel: 07973 548316



The Gap-year Guidebook 2013

Editor: Jonathan Barnes Publisher: John Catt Educational Ltd

Your Gap Year

Author: Susan Griffith Publisher: Vacation Work


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