Words by: TSR community

Thinking about doing a gap year? Feeling a bit nervous about making that step into the unknown? Yep, so does everyone.

Taking a year out of your education tends to be a bit daunting, no matter what you choose to do with that time. But with the right amount of planning and forethought, it can be the best year of your life so far.

Travelling or volunteering abroad are both very rewarding options. You should relish the opportunity of spending quality time finding out intrinsic parts of yourself such as your comfort level, your problem solving abilities and new ways to learn and socialise.. Being able to utilise this self-knowledge will improve the quality of your university experience and life as a whole. After spending your entire life up to now in education, a gap year can be a fun and exciting period that can give you new perspectives before you move on to further education or work.

What is a gap year?

Astudent enjoys herself on her gap year
There are a wide variety of things you can do on your gap year. The majority of people who take a gap year do so between A-level and undergraduate study, however it is not uncommon to take a gap year after you graduate.

A gap year can include a multitude of very different activities and experiences. Generally, gap years will take the form of either travel, volunteer work (charity work) or paid work - and can involve being in the UK, overseas or both. For more gap year ideas check here

Who can take a gap year?

The short answer is anybody can. Although most of those on a gap year tend to be in the 18-25 age bracket (after finishing higher or further education) there is no age limit for who can take a gap year. More often a gap year would be referred to as a sabbatical in the employment world. A gap year offers you the flexibility to take a break and accomplish something you might otherwise never have had the chance to do.

Should I take a gap year?

Of course this is entirely up to you. Although you may face conflicting advice about the usefulness of a gap year this won't be true if you are able spend your time wisely. Some people might have planned their gap year in advance. For others however, it might be because they couldn't get a university place, and decided at the last moment. Either way, a gap year can prove to be a valuable experience.


  • You develop greater maturity and self-confidence by having a year away from school and if travelling, home. It allows you to 'break' from a school mind-set and become more aware of the wider world. It also allows you to develop practical skills such as budgeting money, coping on your own or surviving homesickness before you go to University.
  • If you get a paid job you can save money to help you pay for University expenses. It's also possible that whoever employed you might offer you vacation work or even work on graduation. Increasingly, all mainstream employers are looking for graduates who already have some general work experience not just a degree certificate.
  • Many vocational University courses such as architecture, nursing or law will be extremely interested if you spend your gap year on relevant work experience. Not only does this show your obvious interest in the subject but it often can provide invaluable practical skills.
  • It gives you something to talk about at University interviews, job interviews and graduate interviews - "Give me an example of when you..."
  • A gap year is an invaluable addition to your Curriculum Vitae or Personal Statement. It may be worthwhile mentioning your plans in your Personal Statement or in an interview prior to receiving university offers.


  • A year away from study may mean that you simply forget either some subject skills or techniques (especially important for those applying to Maths courses apparently) or you lose the habit of study.
  • Parents worry that a Gap Year will distract you and you won't actually then go to University at all.

But what if I can't spare a whole year?

Gap year fun in the sea
Many people engage in a combination of paid work, volunteering and travel. Some just do the paid work. Some go on a Working Holiday in countries such as the USA or Australia. Some gappers get a paid job in a European resort or holiday location or an au pair job to brush up their language skills. Others volunteer either in the UK or overseas for a year. Some people get a paid job and go on a 2 week package holiday just before they go to University. The mix is entirely up to you and your circumstances.

There are numerous companies out there who will organise the overseas part of a Gap Year for you and arrange a placement/job, flights etc. Remember, you could just as easily save yourself some money and either organise this yourself or just travel without the work/volunteering aspect.

You do not have to take a whole year off to travel and volunteer overseas. PoD Volunteer offers placements for 1 week+ where you can help around the world with children, animals or conservation as you travel. You can also enhance your CV by studying a TEFL course before you go.

What will I achieve from taking a gap year?

Gap years have a whole host of advantages (and I'm not just talking lots of fun). More and more employers and universities are finding it hard to differentiate between students with the same grades - so a gap year can really help your CV stand out. Here are a few reasons why a gap year is a good idea:

  • Do it while you can! Once work, mortgages and rug-rats come into play, extensive travel can be tricky. Take full advantage whilst still footloose and fancy-free. The world is your playground and the park is open all hours!

  • Earn some money. This fine stuff is always useful at University.

  • Learn to love other people and other cultures. Pass through a place and you’ll really only scratch the surface. Living and working alongside local people will really let you into the heart and soul of any country. Even working or volunteering in the UK will expose you to lots of people whose background is different to your own. Learning tolerance and understanding of 'difference' is an important part of maturity.

  • Increase your confidence! You’ll be surprised how quickly you settle into new jobs, surroundings or situations. A confidence boost is a common side-effect of doing a new job or travel, so if you’re a shrinking violet, now’s your chance to bloom!

  • Fill your address book. You meet all sorts of colourful characters whilst travelling – every age, every culture, every walk of life. Get ready to fill your address book as some could be friends for life. Even if you stay in the UK, this is time to make friends who have nothing to do with school - you could become an entire new you!

  • Improve your future prospects. Employers often look at travel in a favourable light, especially if you have worked or volunteered abroad. However, working or volunteering in the UK still offers you many valuable experiences and skills.

  • Something to tell the grandchildren. Your experiences will become lifelong memories. Guaranteed, even the most frustrating episode will be a story to dine out on in the future.

  • Be inspired! This could be a time for real change in your life. You could find a new career path, find out more about yourself, find love, inspiration or just a taste for strange exotic foods - fried locusts anyone? - or make useful job contacts for later in life.

  • Transferable skills. There are many life skills that you can gain from working or volunteering that no amount of education can provide. You learn a great deal more from life by living it than just sat in a classroom.

  • Perfect your personal statement. The number of people applying to university is growing rapidly. Stay ahead of the race with a UCAS application that stands out from the masses and could be the difference between getting the Offer you want or not.

What about money?

Many gappers work for the first part of their year to raise funds. Very few of us are in a position to get parents to pay for it!

If you plan ahead, you can ask family and friends to give you money for your 18th Birthday present. Open a bank or building society account specifically for accumulating funds for your year off. Put any part-time or weekend job earnings during your final year at school in there. Don't use this money for anything else! You'll be surprised how much you can actually save if you want it badly enough.

Volunteering in the UK

Who said all Gap Years have to be spent doing something altruistic overseas? There are plenty of things you can do in the UK that will also make a difference.

There are lots of charities and other organisations in the UK who would value the services of a bright young person for a few months. This doesn't have to involve 'just working in a Charity Shop', there are a thousand other interesting roles that could give you invaluable experience in admin, finance, fundraising, event organising, care work, work with children, legal work and so on.

Look on the websites for mainstream charities like Oxfam, Cancer Research, Princes Trust etc, or just email/phone their local or national head offices and ask what might be available. You can also look for smaller local charities or organisations, or just Google 'volunteer' and the name of your home town. A useful website is Charity Jobs http://www.charityjob.co.uk/Volunteer-Jobs.

Fundraising & voluntary work overseas

Having fun while volunteering on your gap year is essential
Money (or lack of) can be quite a big thorn in your side when it comes to taking an organised 'commercial' type gap year. Some experts reckon that the average gap year can cost £4000-£6000 - ouch!

There are the straightforward things you can to do earn money, such as getting a job, having a car boot sale or selling your stuff on eBay. You can also approach local companies and charities (Lions clubs, Rotary clubs etc) for sponsorship.

However, if you want to stand out from the crowd you can also do something a little bit wacky and getting that sponsored - like the lady who was going to visit a lion park in South Africa and raised funds by sitting in bath of cat food (ew, but it worked).

1. Think, "who do I know"? Successful fundraising costs little and reaches a wide audience. Think: "who can help me?" Does a member of the family work in a large company that could sponsor you? Is there a friend who could provide a venue for a fundraising event? Build your ideas around what you already have.

2. Keep your reasons for volunteering in mind. A passionate desire to help people less fortunate than ourselves will bring in donations - particularly when 'face-to face' fundraising.

3. Produce a leaflet. Explaining your reasons for volunteering abroad and giving some background on the project you hope to join. Include this leaflet in every fundraising activity.

4. Have a goal. Know how much you need to raise and for every fundraising activity, assess how much you expected to raise against what you actually do. Some ideas work, others might not, but you won't repeat mistakes.

5. Ask for specific donations. But don't stand by them. Asking for a specific amount will give your donors a benchmark and allow you to calculate how much you need to raise from each person/organisation to achieve your target. If you’re asking for sponsorship, it may be an idea to go to your biggest benefactor first – people often follow the leader.

6. Write well-targeted letters. To individuals, and individuals within companies, asking for support.

7. Hold an (inexpensive!) event. And make it wacky – like the lion conservation volunteer who sat in a tub of cat-food! Draw attention to your goals, get sponsorship and give publicity to any companies who have already donated to your cause. Local press coverage can also be useful.

8. Always offer something in return to every sponsor who makes a donation. This could be as simple as sending them a copy of your diary via email when you are abroad, or giving a talk when you return.

9. Plan ahead, to avoid missing your targets.

10. Use your time wisely. Fundraisers generally use as much time as they have to achieve their goals. If you are on a tight deadline, you will just be working that bit harder!

Companies who organise Gap Year 'experiences'


PoD is a leading non-profit organisation arranging ethical, inspiring and supported volunteering opportunities around the world.

They work with long term projects that we know personally and where there is genuine benefit to local communities. All volunteers receive a fundraising guide when they book onto a project.

Whether it is for 1 week or 6 months, volunteers are needed to help work with disadvantaged children, communities, animals and conservation projects in Belize, Cambodia, Nepal, Peru, South Africa, Ghana, Thailand and Vietnam.

PoD volunteers help to make a genuine difference to the communities where they work while develop their skills and exploring incredible parts of the world. PoD provides all volunteers with a free fundraising guide to help them fundraise for their project.


You can gain a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course via PoD which allows students to learn the skills required to teach English to students whose first language is not English. Teaching English overseas is very rewarding and an ideal way to explore the world whilst immersing yourself in new countries and learning about new cultures. It can also lead on to a paid career teaching overseas.

For more details see: http://pod.lovetefl.com/pod-120-hour.html [LINK DOESNT WORK!]

You can join PoD on Facebook or follow them on Twitter

Africa & Asia Venture

Africa & Asia Venture (AV) specialise in placing volunteers from around the world into worthwhile projects across the developing world. Operating in Africa, Asia and now Latin America their vision is to promote global citizenship and a deeper understanding of different cultures and communities.

Through teaching, sports, community and conservation projects young people have the opportunity to travel with a purpose - developing personal skills and gaining experience. Since 1993 AV has helped over 5,000 young people aged 18-25 pursue their gap year dreams and do more than just a 'holiday'.

The difference between a traveller and a volunteer is a world of understand. For more information on all projects see http://www.aventure.co.uk/http://wwww.aventure.co.uk

Raleigh International

Raleigh is a youth and sustainable development charity that runs expeditions abroad. Anyone aged over 17 can join an expedition and take part in a challenging mix of community, environment and adventure projects. Expeditions last for 5, 7 and 10 weeks are run throughout the year in Borneo, Costa Rica & Nicaragua and India. Raleigh has a strong focus on personal development and young people taking part in an expedition can gain valuable skills and confidence whilst also making a genuine difference. Get off the beaten track, explore new cultures and make a genuine difference

For more information visit http://raleighinternational.org/


i-to-i offers a complete fundraising service to all volunteer travellers, whether they have booked an i-to-i Venture or not. The more people who are in a position to volunteer abroad, the more help we can bring to communities and ecosystems in need around the world.

You can find a FREE detailed fundraising pack at on the i-to-i website at http://www.i-to-i.com/

Hutong School

Hutong School Provides internship placements (for all levels of experience) as well as excellent Chinese courses. You could spend your time living in Beijing while acquiring language knowledge and skills in your field of interest.

Gap Medics

Gap Medics Specifically if you are looking at going to University to study either Medicine or nursing then Gap Medics can provide medical work experience in Hospitals in The Caribbean, India and Tanzania - http://www.gapmedics.com/

See Also

PoD Volunteer

Springboard - Gap Year Advice