Do students in your country go directly to university or college after school or do they have a break first? Taking a gap year between school and uni is quite common in the UK and there are lots of different ways to spend your time.

What is a gap year?

A ‘gap year’ is a period of time, usually an academic year, when a student takes a break from formal education. It is often spent travelling or working.


People used to think that taking a gap year was negative. In the past you took a gap year if you had to retake exams or had problems between finishing school and starting higher education and then starting a career. But now, universities positively encourage a gap year and employers are happy to give jobs to students who take a gap year. A year out between school or college and higher education or employment, or between higher education and a job, can give young people useful learning experiences, help them pick up new skills and make them more independent. Employers and universities want to see evidence of enterprise, maturity and commitment both in and outside formal education.


Young people in formal education usually take a gap year when they are about 18 years old, before going to university. They can also be taken at a different time, for example, by someone who wants to break up their degree course or to do something different before a postgraduate course.

Where and what?

Many gap year students choose to do voluntary work. This could include teaching in the mountains in Nepal, a conservation project in Madagascar, an expedition in Costa Rica or an internship in Japan. There are plenty of gap year volunteer work options to choose from. There is also voluntary work closer to home for British students – both geographically and culturally – including the UK, Europe and North America.

Lots of gap year students just want to see more of the world. According to the British government’s Gap Year website, the top five gap year travel destinations recently have been Tibet, Indonesia, Taiwan, Eastern Europe and Canada. Popular gap year activities for young people looking for adventure include surfing in Hawaii, wake boarding in Italy, kite surfing in Egypt or bungee jumping in New Zealand.

What about money?

Most students who are planning a gap year take on a part-time job to save up for the trip. Some young people look for work when they get to their destination if they need to earn money to pay for accommodation, food and their other expenses. Popular jobs include bar work, fruit picking and being a tour guide. A gap year doesn’t have to be a full year travelling or having adventures: some students travel for three or six months then work for the rest of the year.

Organising a gap year

Because the gap year is so popular and needs to be cheap, travel companies now offer structured gap packages where your entire trip is worked out for you. There are three main categories of a structured gap year activity:

  • Expeditions, often with a conservation element and usually to developing countries
  • Courses to learn a skill such as a language or something that they can later teach others to do, for example windsurfing
  • Voluntary work in the UK and abroad.

An African experience

Julie Taylor graduated from Hull University. She now works as a manager in an international company. Julie tells us about her gap year:

During my gap year, I taught in a primary school in Kenya. I spent four months teaching children aged 8 to 18 in English, Art and Physical Education and I coached the school's netball team. As well as working, I also travelled the country and even climbed Mount Kenya. The trip was one of the best experiences of my life. I’m very happy that I didn’t head off to university straight after school because I learnt a lot about myself in my year out. I was able to get by on very little money and to deal with problems without the support of my family and friends.

My trip to Africa also looks great on my CV. I worked to save up for the trip, which showed my employer that I had good self-motivation and organisational skills, which are essential in any job. My interviewers were really interested in how I managed to teach classes of 88 children (with lots of enthusiasm and promises of netball after class!). Employers see that climbing to an altitude of 4,985m up Mount Kenya shows self-motivation, strength and determination. Not everybody can put that on their CV.

The future

The British government has recently put up tuition fees for university degree courses. Students may have to pay many thousands of pounds a year for their education. How will these changes affect the gap year for future British students?


If you were planning to take a gap year, how would you choose to spend your time?


hadia's picture
hadia 15 December, 2016 - 16:33

It would be an interesting thing to do but unfortunately.......For me , it's not possible. Because I have to pursue professional studies which gives me no room for a gap year. I'll think about it BTW. :))))

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sona's picture
sona 12 May, 2016 - 17:05

I haven't heard the term of 'gap year' before and I haven't know anybody who had did that in my country. However,I think it is not banned and it depends on you. In fact, I think that the idea of gap year is fantastic and I really will consider this in my future. If I planned to take a gap year,I would visit all the capitals city of Europe and I would do volunteer work in the developing world. By exploring new cities,new cultures,beautiful views and by meeting new people,I think I will experience a wonderful time and will learn new things,that will help me to become more confident imn the future.

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Alita's picture
Alita 25 November, 2013 - 22:54

Im going to take a gap year and Im going to work as an employee for both of my parent in their jobs, helping them in everything they need.

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Natalija's picture
Natalija 26 March, 2013 - 17:08

Hi Jonathan!
Sorry for answering late;).
Well, at the moment, I don't know if I'll take a gap year, but it would be really great experience and a kind of preparation for university, too. I'd like to take it, but I'm not sure.
What about you? Will you take a gap year or have you already taken it?;)

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Natalija's picture
Natalija 8 March, 2013 - 13:18

In Serbia we can have a gap year or we can go directly to university, it's our own choice. But the majority of students decide to go immediately to university after high school. I think the both has advantages as well as disadvantages. If I would take a gap year, I would go to the world tour, to see Asia's and Europe's countries and to learn as much foreign languages as possible. It could be very valuable for the college, of course. I would dare to do all that funny things, to try something new, from riding an elephant in India, swimming with dolphins and to the longs walks in Paris. I would also like to dedicate to the volunteer work and to give backs. I like helping others and volunteering in Africa and Asia would really help me, illuminate me and show me some new aspects on the life. I am looking forward to doing all this things;).

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 10 March, 2013 - 01:05

Hello Something nice! They sound like fantastic plans and I'm sure it would be a great experience. Do you know if you'll have a chance to take a gap year?
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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Gabby's picture
Gabby 22 February, 2013 - 23:58

Gap year seem to be really interesting! Here in Brazil the most common is people go to university soon after school. The result of this is that the last year in school is stressful for many students because they have to prepare for the tests to enter in a good University and pass the tests in school at the same time. I think a gap year would be useful for decinding who career we want to choose, because many people who finishing school are still unsure of what course they want to do.
If I would take a gap year would like to travel and study languages. I would like to do voluntary work too. I think an experience like this would help me with a more humane view of the world.

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shwii's picture
shwii 25 January, 2013 - 10:34

I think the idea of having a gap year is really inter enter interesting,but it's not very common in Egypt.I would like to have a gap year travelling,learning skills or even working .I think it would be a great experience.

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jenniferkim's picture
jenniferkim 16 January, 2013 - 04:24

I want to travel a lot. I went all around the Asia so this time I want to go to Europe and have a long travel all around the Europe. I really want to go Germeny and France.
I want to go to Brazil too. It'll be so much fun. But I think I have to earn lots of money for all that travel.
I think I have to do part time job for eight month and save up for the travel and the rest or 4month I want to travel Europe and Brazil. That will be sooo~ great!!!

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goloconda's picture
goloconda 9 January, 2013 - 14:13

We don't have a gap year in Egypt. students have only a 3 months holiday after finishing high-school, they spent them waiting for the exam results and applying for the university.
For me it's a great thing to have such a year in your life. Instead of that we can take the experience from volunteering work during the study time and the summer vacation. We learn a lot from that but for sure not as being abroad for a year facing the life alone without any support from your family and your friends.
I'am happy that my country name appears in the popular gap years activities for young people in Britain, and I will be happier if someone visit me in Egypt, I can help him by being his host and guide.

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Sizar Torres's picture
Sizar Torres 12 October, 2012 - 16:02

Well in my country we don't have gap year.when a student finishes high school and grade 12 they have about five months holiday and one can do whatever they want.
It is a really nice experience to travel somewhere in gap year but we are not allowed to have this gap year, even students want to go to university with a lot of enthusiasm, they get bored because of sitting home , they don't have money to travel to a place they like , or their families don't allow them.
Sometimes students themselves don't want to travel or have a gap year or even going to university , as they couldn't get the mark they wanted.Here if you want to study in Engineering college you have to get 90 out of 100 at least as an average mark or you won't be able to study there even if it was your biggest dream. Also in the medicine college you have to get 97 at the students who couldn't get the mark they wanted ,they will be disappointed and shocked and don't want to have a gap year or journeys.

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