A guide to gap years
Making the most of a year out
A gap year is an incredible opportunity to explore new places, save some money, and learn new skills. Here are five tips for making the most of your gap year.
1. Half work, half play
A gap year isn’t just a year off. It’s an opportunity for you to equip yourself with skills desirable to employers and do once-in-a-lifetime activities.
So that you can get the best of both, make a list of what you want to experience and what you want to achieve. Then split the year in half or into thirds and choose what you’ll do in those periods. For example:
- You can spend half the year working, and then go travelling.
- If you don’t want to travel, you can spend a third of the year gaining work experience, another third earning and saving money, and the final third learning a new skill or studying.
- Another way is to combine both new experiences and learning into one. For example, you can travel and do some work experience abroad.
Start making a plan in advance, though, or you may end up spending the gap year deciding what to do!
2. Plan it yourself
The idea of planning a whole year yourself can seem daunting, but designing your own gap year alone will help you develop new skills. You’ll gain research skills, organisational skills, and independence.
Doing it alone means you can find experiences that are really suited to you and your interests. Alongside travel, you could also learn a language, support a local charity, enrol in a college course, or start a blog.
The best part is that you won’t need to stick to someone else’s structure, so you can be spontaneous.
3. Trial potential careers
People often take a gap year to figure out what they want to do for a career. This is more sensible than jumping into a course/apprenticeship you aren’t sure about, but only if you look for experiences that inspire you.
One of the best ways to do this is through work experience in an industry you’re interested in. This will give you a feel for the role, sector, and environment. Whether you decide it’s your dream career or realise it isn’t, it would still be a useful experience.
Work experience can be more than a one-time thing too. Often the company you worked for will be happy to invite you back in future and may even offer you a job. If it’s a large company with multiple branches, you might be able to continue that job in your new city if you move away for university.
4. Consider your course
Not all courses encourage students to take gap years. Maths departments, for example, tend to view them as negatively interrupting studies.
If possible, try to plan your gap year so that you won’t lose the skills you need for your course. For instance, if you are going to study French, travelling to a French-speaking country would be very beneficial, whereas travelling to India could seem pointless from the university’s perspective. In your Personal Statement, you can explain how your gap year will be relevant to your future studies if you're applying for deferred entry.
5. Plan money first
If you’re travelling, one of the easiest mistakes to make is running out of money. There’s no point going to amazing places if you can’t do anything there. Here are some useful tips:
- Book flights home in advance. Some people get to the end of their trip and find they can’t afford to fly home!
- Research the cost of living. When travelling, do not assume that the cost of food, hotels, or hostels will be the same as back home. Check out our ‘cost of studying in’ guides in the Know-how library to learn more about living abroad.
- Make a budget. Create a set daily/weekly spending limit that you actually stick to.
- Keep a financial safety net. Travelling throws unexpected events at you, so make sure you always have enough money for an emergency if you need to replace something you’ve lost, like your passport, or need to find somewhere to stay.
- Get travel health insurance. Medical bills in foreign countries can be incredibly high.
If you aren’t travelling, it can still be tempting to spend money on lots of things now that you aren’t going to school every day, especially if you are doing work experience and earning a wage. Don’t underestimate how useful it is to have savings once you arrive at university, and try to keep some money for later!
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