Student life

The Ultimate Student Gap Year Guide


By the time you reach university, you’ll likely have already been in some form of education since the age of five – that’s thirteen years of school, straight off the bat. Gap years are a great way to gain some valuable life experience before heading off to university, whether it be to simply take a break from education, or perhaps to earn some money for when you do go to uni.

In this guide we’ve covered off all the things you’ll need to consider when deciding whether or not to take a gap year, and some of the options available to you should you decide to take one. From finances, to travel destinations, we’ve got you covered.

Reasons to take a gap year

To take a break from education

Everyone has different reasons for taking a year out, and it’s worth bearing in mind that a gap year doesn’t necessarily need to happen before uni – there’s nothing stopping you from travelling after uni, just before entering the world of work. But if you’re looking for a break from education, it might be worth having a look into whether you can defer your entry to university for a year. This will mean that your uni place will be waiting for you in September when you return from your travels.

To earn some money

The prospect of taking out a student loan for your studies can be a daunting one. Although the repayments are never as scary as they seem (you now don’t actually start paying it back until you earn over £25,000 per annum), if the financial implications of university are causing you some worry, then it might be a good idea to work for a year and save some money for when you do attend. If you earn enough, you might be able to take out a smaller student loan, leaving you in a better financial position when you do leave uni.

Gain some valuable life experience

No matter what you decide to do with your gap year, you’re bound to gain some incredible life experience. If you decide to work for a year, you’ll have some great insight to take to uni for you, and it may prove beneficial when searching for jobs after uni. Taking a year out gives you time to think about your future and what you might want out of a career. If you decide to travel, you’ll get to see parts of the world that many people don’t get the opportunity to. You may also may not be able to travel so much once you start working, so now may be the time to make the most of it.

Reasons to go straight to uni

To keep the educational momentum going

After fifteen (plus) years of education, you’ll be pretty good at studying by now. Whilst it might seem a little been-there-done-that to go straight from A-levels to university, for some it’s beneficial to stay in the education mind-set. Studying takes practise, and so taking a year out to travel or work might make you lose momentum, or not want to go back into education at all. It may be better to get the education part out of the way – you can always take a gap year after uni.

The real world can be an intimidating place

Although some will be ready and raring to start earning money, buying houses and just generally ‘adulting,’ there will be some that need some more time – university is a great opportunity to stave off the inevitable reality of the real world and to spend a few more years learning, and figuring out what you really want from a career, and from life.

You might miss out on bursary opportunities

Whilst most things stay the same from year to year, the grants and bursaries offered to students by universities each year may fluctuate, meaning that you may miss out on saving some money by taking a year out. If you’re worried about this, it may be worth speaking to your university to see if they can give you any insight or understanding on how grants and bursaries might be affected from year to year.

What could you do with your gap year?

Work

If one of your sole reasons for taking a gap year is to earn some extra money, then you’ll need to find work for your gap year. This could be work experience related to what you want to study, or it could just be something you’ve always wanted to try, like a ski season. Either way, it’ll be incredibly useful when you go to uni to have some money in the bank, as it could mean that you don’t need to take out the full student loan, leaving yourself in an even better financial position post-university. Alternatively, you could use the extra cash you’ve saved on your gap year to fund a postgraduate course should you want to. Aside from the financial benefits, it’s always useful to have additional work experience to add to your CV for when you eventually have to hunt for full-time work. There are plenty of job websites that cater specifically to gap year jobs so that you can easily find a job in the field and location that you’re interested in.

Volunteer abroad

Volunteer work can be a life-changing experience. Not only does it look great on your CV, but helping others often provides a feeling of fulfilment you don’t get from other jobs. Volunteer work offers an array of personal and professional benefits, from teamwork skills to cultural awareness, as well as the ability to travel independently, and these are all qualities that businesses are likely to be looking for in prospective employees. Whichever type of charity or organisation you choose to volunteer for, a gap year of volunteering is sure to leave you in good stead for whatever university life may throw at you.

Travel

Even if you don’t want to volunteer on your gap year, there are still plenty of travel options for people that aren’t ready for university. Similarly, it’ll still look great on your CV as it demonstrates an ability to be organised, to travel independently, and an element of curiosity and keenness to learn. If you’re looking for ideas, these are some of the top gap year travel destinations:

1. Thailand

Thailand is an increasingly popular gap year destination, and with relatively low costs attached, it’s a great location to soak up the beautiful landscapes that South East Asia has to offer.

2. Australia and New Zealand

Popular for working abroad, Australia and New Zealand offer sunshine, work opportunities and stunning beaches. However, you’ll need to be careful that you have the right type of visa if you’ll be working whilst you’re abroad.

3. USA

With fifty states to explore, you won’t be hard pushed to fill an entire gap year just by travelling across the United States alone. Whether it’s taking a boat tour around the Statue of Liberty or hiking in the Grand Canyon, the United States has something to offer all different types of travellers.

4. Namibia

Namibia is quickly becoming one of the top gap year destinations in Africa, as there’s a lot to explore and it tends to be the path-less-trodden by other travellers. From remote Himba communities to the Skeleton Coast, Namibia’s landscape completely differs from that of other African countries.

5. Peru

Located in South America, Peru offers a mixture of jungles, coastlines, highlands and ancient archaeological sites, meaning that there’s something for everyone hoping to explore the rich history that Peru has to offer.

Things to consider for your gap year

Making sure you’re covered

It’s important to make sure you have the right insurance in place for your gap year. Your policy will need to factor in where you’re going, as well as any activities you might be partaking in whilst you’re away. As a minimum, you’ll want to make sure your travel insurance covers the following:

  • Cancellation and curtailment
  • Medical expenses, and the cost of repatriation
  • Lost or stolen baggage
  • Personal accident cover

Protecting your money abroad

It’s an unfortunate truth that tourists are particularly susceptible to theft, as they usually carry larger amounts of cash and are out of their comfort zone. However, there are a number of measures you can take to protect your money abroad.

Before heading off, make sure that you let your bank know that you’re going away. Not only will this avoid your bank putting a stop on your card, but they’ll provide you with details of what to do should something go wrong.

It’s also a good idea to leave some cards at home. Only take what is absolutely necessary so that, should you lose your wallet or it gets stolen, you only have to cancel one or two cards rather than the whole lot!

It’s also sensible to split your cash so you’re not wandering around with your whole stash. Better to leave some money in the hotel room safe (or just a safe place) so that you always have at least a bit of cash to enjoy the rest of your holiday with.

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