Whether you want to learn a new skill, raise your cultural awareness or buy yourself some thinking time before making the move into work or further study, a gap year could be the answer…

What is a gap year?

Traditionally, the phrase 'gap year' meant a period of time taken out by students after leaving college and before starting university. Now, gap years can happen at any stage, by anyone, and for varying amounts of time.

You can fly off to sunnier climates and experience different cultures or stay closer to home and sample what the UK has to offer. Whatever your destination some examples of gap year activities include: conservation work; adventure travel programmes; summer schools; and internships. To find out more, search gap year opportunities.

How will it benefit me?

Taking a gap year could:

  • Develop your transferable skills - whether it's learning to budget when planning your trip or using your initiative to make your way across Australia, you'll have developed lots of skills that employers want.
  • Raise your cultural awareness - living and working alongside local people will allow you to appreciate other cultures and having friends all over the world can only be a good thing.
  • Increase your confidence and independence - having to speak to new groups of people every day will definitely help you to come out of your shell. While arranging travel, finding accommodation and surviving on your own money are great ways to show that you're independent.
  • Allow you to learn a new craft - if there's something that you've always wanted to try then your gap year is a great time to give it a go. Whether you fancy surfing, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), filmmaking, cookery or even the art of kung fu, this is your chance to broaden your horizons.
  • Increase your work experience - there aren't many jobs that don't require some work experience, and a gap year is a great time to start building this. Try to keep the majority of it related to your course, for example, if you want to be a teacher look for opportunities to work with children and consider community work if you want to get into social care. For a more in-depth look at working in a foreign country, see our working abroad profiles.
  • Improve your language skills - try to pick up some useful phrases and then build on them each day. Not only will this endear you to the locals, it might also help you get a job when you return. Many organisations now trade globally and having someone in their organisation who can speak the language is a huge asset.

Will it affect my chances of getting a job?

Employers will look at hundreds of applications, so you'll need something to make yours stand out, and a gap year can do just that. Explaining what you did with your time will not only catch their eye - it should also give you interesting examples to draw upon at interview.

However, if you don't plan or actively take part in anything during your gap year it will be difficult to justify your trip to potential employers and it could be seen as a negative gap on your CV. To make sure this doesn't happen you need to create a plan detailing what you want to achieve at the end of it.

Learn more about how a gap year can bridge the gap between education and employment.

Can I defer my university place?

You need to contact your chosen university, stating why you want to defer and what you intend to do with your time. It's then up to the university to assess each case and decide whether you can defer.

To justify deferring your place, you'll need to prove that your gap year is constructive and that you'll gain something from it. Choosing to do something related to your course may also strengthen your case. For some subjects, such as maths and physics, it's important to keep your subject knowledge and skills up to date, so you'll need to explain to your tutors how you intend to do this.

The biggest risk of taking a considerable break from studying is that you may lose the momentum for it when you return. If you're unsure of whether time out will affect you, speak to your lecturers and friends and ask your university careers service if they offer any support for students planning time away from their studies.

Can I take a gap year during university?

Taking a gap year during your studies can stop you from giving it 100%. Before you leave you'll spend time planning the trip and your return will be spent trying to get back into the swing of things.

Added to this is the fact that when you return your peer group will have moved on. Being surrounded by new people can make it harder to settle back in and you may lose your enthusiasm for the course altogether.

Unless you have a good reason for taking time out from your course to do a gap year employers may perceive this time away as a lack of commitment. You need to think how you will explain this, detailing how what you learned helped you successfully complete the course when you returned.

Rather than taking a full year off, you could use the summer holidays to travel, volunteer or work abroad. You won't miss any of your course and will have the same opportunity to build skills that can help with your degree. It may also show employers that you have developed good time management skills, as you have juggled organising your trip with a full-time degree.

You could also consider Erasmus+, a programme which offers university students (who have completed their first year of study) the chance to do an internship abroad for a period of between two and 12 months.

To find out what’s on offer search work experience and volunteering opportunities.

Should I take a year out after university?

After so many years studying, a gap year could be seen as a well-earned break. You could use the time to reflect on what you've achieved and decide on your next move. Entering the working world fresh from a break could be more beneficial than a graduate who is burned out from years of studying.

With such strong competition for jobs you might be wondering whether removing yourself from the job market is the best idea. However, a gap year can build the skills that employers are looking for, and when you return you'll have experiences to make you stand out.

Thanks to your student loan and general living costs you'll probably leave university in some debt, so choosing to take a year out may not always be the best option. Instead, getting a job straight after graduation, giving you a regular income and the chance to start paying off some of your debt might be a good idea. If you're set on taking some time out, save money by doing a shorter stint and staying closer to home.

You've had a great time on your gap year, but the reality of coming home without university or a job to look forward to might take the shine off all the new things you've experienced. Make sure you have a plan of action for when you return and that you know exactly how you'll achieve it.