What are: Gap years?

A gap year involves taking a year out of education, usually after you have finished studying further education courses like A-levels or BTECs, before you start university. They are entirely voluntary (no one will make you take a gap year!) but universities certainly won’t look at your application unfavourably if you have taken one.

Why would I take a gap year?

The main thing a gap year gives you is time. This means you can think more carefully about the direction you want to take with your education, grow as a person, and fit in lots of exciting things like travel or volunteering. Some people choose to use their gap years to earn some extra money to support themselves whilst they are at university or even spend time plugging gaps in their knowledge before they return to full time education.

Universities want to see that you have used your gap year wisely, and not just spent the year relaxing at home. The experiences you have on your gap year, especially things like travelling, charity work, work experience and any additional study can look great on your university application.

There are also lots of companies that offer gap year programmes. These usually combine travelling with working, charity work and other experiences. There are also companies that can help you find a job for your gap year, usually doing things that are a little more exciting than working in your local supermarket. However it is important to research thoroughly before using these services, some charge a lot of money for things that you could have organised yourself for a lot less. Remember you don’t have to fly around the world to have an amazing experience, volunteering or working closer to home can be equally rewarding.

How long do they take?

Most people will take one academic year (from September to August), taking longer can sometimes make it more difficult to return to full time education.

Where can I find out more?

Before you make any decisions about taking a gap year or what you might do on one it is important to research all your options. Try searching the internet for ‘gap year programmes’, ‘gap year charity work’ or ‘volunteer gap year’ and take a look at all of the options. Prospects.ac.uk also has a lot of useful information about gap years.