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Gap years: the Essential Guide

gap year volunteerGap years can offer the opportunity to experience a range of things you wouldn't be able to in your ordinary life.


Lots of people enjoy travelling during a gap year. It is a great way for you to become more confident. It could be the first time that you live away from home and you will have to look after yourself, cook, clean and manage your money.

Travel is expensive, so you'll need to save beforehand and to find ways of travelling cheaply, such as camping. Many people spend part of a gap year working to earn enough to travel.

This experience can also look good on your CV or personal statement. However, travel will need to be relevant to be useful: for example, if you want to study politics, then travelling to a place with a political situation you are interested in and learning more about it first-hand might be useful. Just going on holiday is less likely to impress universities or employers.

Typical skills gained from travelling include: independent thinking, budgeting, problem-solving, forward-planning and good communication.

Travelling, particularly in countries with a very different culture, can help you to become more independent and learn how to cope on your own.

Whilst it is safer to travel with friends, some people do travel on their own.

Check out the following for travel inspiration:


Teaching can be a very rewarding experience and there are a lot of opportunities to teach in foreign countries.

Some placements ask you to have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification, but many don’t. Read our article What is TEFL? and visit Teaching Projects Abroad to find out more.


Volunteering can be a cost-effective way to see the world, or make a difference in your home country. There are many different charities that will offer you the chance to do a long-term voluntary placement.

To see some examples, visit the CSV website. They offer volunteering opportunities in England, anything from planting trees to running after-school clubs for children. Alternatively, check out the VSO website for something a bit further afield.


Spending your gap year studying might seem like missing the point, but it can be valuable. For example, you might:

  • Retake A-levels to increase your chances of getting in to your preferred university
  • Learn to drive
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn practical skills like DIY


OK, it doesn’t sound that fun, but working during your gap year could be one of the most rewarding things you do. If you’ve got time to spare before university, why not use it to build some valuable skills that will look great on your CV, and to earn some cash?

You may have to choose between unpaid work experience, which may be more beneficial for your CV, and work that pays but is less relevant to your career. However, you can split your time between this, and it's always worth looking for paid work in the area you're interested in even if you don't expect to get it.

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