By the time you reach university, you’ll probably have already been in some form of education since the age of five – and after thirteen years of school, you might be starting to wonder if there’s more to life than just studying.
If you’re one of those people, a gap year can be a great way to gain some valuable life experience before heading to uni – after all, we all need a break now and then, and you might even be able to save up some money for university while you’re at it!
But remember - a gap year isn’t for everyone, and it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before taking a year out.
To help you out, we’ve pulled together the Student’s Guide to Gap Years which gives tips on how to decide whether a gap year is right for you, as well as the travel options available to you during your year out. From finances to travel destinations, we’ve got you covered.
What is a gap year?
This may seem obvious, but for the uninitiated a “gap year” is a period of time you can take out of either education or employment.
For most, a gap year will be taken the year after they finish school and before starting university - but this isn’t always the case. The truth is, if you have the money to fund it you can take a gap year at any point in your life!
However, bear in mind that it could become harder to take a gap year as you get older, as you may have family or financial commitments that prevent you from jetting off at any moment - not that that’s a bad thing! But it is the reason that many people choose to take a gap year before university, as this is the time when you’re free to find yourself and figure out what you want to do with your life.
Should I take a gap year?
Not sure whether or not to take a gap year? Here we’ve weighed up the pros and cons…
Benefits of taking a gap year
Everyone needs a break now and then
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 place will be waiting for you in September when you return from your travels.
You’ll be rolling in it
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, if the future financial impact of uni is causing you some worry, then it might be a good idea to work for a year and save some money. If you earn enough, you might be able to take out a smaller student loan.
You’ll gain some valuable life experience
No matter what you decide to do with your gap year – whether its work, volunteering or intrepid exploring - you’re bound to gain some incredible life experience. If you decide to work, you’ll have some great employer insight to take to uni with you and might even find it easier to find a job after uni. Taking a year out gives you time to think about your future and what you might want out of a career.
And a few reasons to skip your gap year…
To keep the educational momentum going
After fifteen (plus) years of education, you’re probably pretty good at studying by now. While it might seem a little been-there-done-that to go straight from A-levels to university, for some it can be easier to stay in the education mind-set. Studying takes practise, and so taking a year out could make you lose momentum - or not want to go back into education at all. That’s why for some people it’s 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 others that need a bit more time – and university is a great opportunity to stave off the inevitable reality of the real world and spend a few more years figuring out what you really want from life!
You might miss out on bursary opportunities
The grants and bursaries offered to students by universities each year can fluctuate, so there is the potential to miss out by taking a gap year. If you have any concerns around 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 may be affected each year.
What should I do on my gap year?
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to planning a gap year, and what you ultimately decide to embark on need to be right for you and the future you want to build for yourself.
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 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.
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:
Note: Please visit the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website to ensure your destination is not restricted under any FCDO directive which will affect the cover provided under your insurance policy.
Related: COVID-19 air corridors explained
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.
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 on your gap year abroad.
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.
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.
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.
Staying protected on your gap year
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Split your cash. 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.
Gap year insurance
If you’re heading off on a gap year abroad, have you thought about your gap year cover?
There’s nothing that puts a dampener on a holiday quite like a stolen credit card or cancelled flight - which is why it’s important to make sure you have the right insurance in place before you head off.