What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is, by definition, a period, typically an academic year, taken by a student as a break between school and university. It is usually used to travel.

The idea of taking a ‘Gap Year’ started in the 60’s and has grown in popularity ever since. Like with many things in human life-patterns, a gap year became VERY big business about ten years ago. Everyone wanted to go on one, even felt pressured to do so, and the bigger and further away the experience was, the better.  Then it started to calm down, like a lot of these crazes and now a gap year is back to being what it is supposed to be – an opportunity for those that want to (and can afford to), to take some time out, visit places of interest to them, gain work experience or do voluntary/charity work before embarking on more study or entering the work place.

What does a Gap Year involve?

A gap year can either be a structured program of activity, a charity fund-raising project, volunteering abroad, travelling and exploring the world or simply taking a break from study to spend time with friends and family. Essentially it can be anything you want or need it to be.

It can be beneficial to a young adult’s personal growth with new adventures, new experiences and meeting new people, but it is by no means essential. For some it can actually be stressful, expensive or it can make the return to study very difficult.

The Pros

New experiences for personal growth

Confidence building

A refreshing break from studies to refuel

A chance to do voluntary work

New contacts/friends

The Cons

It costs – flights, insurance, visas, accommodation, vaccinations, internal travel, food etc. (Obviously it depends what you do and for how long)

Loss of study drive

Can be stressful organising and travelling – needs to be a personal choice.

It is, or should be, a very personal thing. Some young adults absolutely need to take a break and refuel after their ‘A’ levels. It can clear and refresh their minds and prepare them for the next study period to come.  The experiences can have life-long benefits and it is a chance to learn new skills, gain confidence and get a break from home-life.

However, for others it can end up costing a lot of money. It can sometimes even change people’s minds about university as they find it hard to go back to study after such a long break. Sometimes it is simply not necessary and getting straight into university or work is the right thing.


The cost really depends what you do and how long you do it for. If you do voluntary work or pick up casual work along the way if can be very affordable, but you still need the money for flights, insurance etc. It is important to plan your year sensibly and within a realistic budget. My daughters plan to use the first half of their gap years working to save, and then travel during the second half, using the money they have earned. It is up to them how hard they work and therefore how far they can go.

It doesn’t have to be overseas

It is important to remember the gap year is not necessarily about going overseas. It is equally beneficial to spend time volunteering in the UK, gaining work experience, travelling and exploring at home or simply working, raising money for university and taking some quality time out. The idea of a gap year is a ‘break’ between school and university and there should be no boundaries or pre-conceived ideas about what that includes.

My Experience of the Gap Year

All three of my children approached the gap year it in a different way. My eldest didn’t take one, but travelled in the long summer holidays between semesters. My middle daughter is about to take her gap year AFTER finishing her degree last month, and my youngest has decided to take her gap year in the traditional style, before her degree and has applied to start university in September 2019 (It is possible to apply to university at the normal time but ask to defer the start date to incorporate a gap year).

The Gap Year Guidebook

The Gap Year Guidebook 2018  is a great book which covers everything from fund-raising, cost, travel advice, cheap flights, conservation projects to get involved in, and even what to take. A great gift for someone considering a gap year.

the gap year

They also have a brilliant website:

The Gap Year Guidebook website

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