Taking a year off before university has been a popular choice for students for decades, giving young people the chance to travel, volunteer or get a taste of paid work.
For some it means a chance to work at home and earn some money towards their future studies.
But for many, a gap year provides the opportunity for adventure, the chance to see new countries and have amazing experiences before settling down.
There are plenty of reasons for taking a gap year:
- Getting away from the books for a while
- The chance to see new places and meet new people
- The opportunity to learn a new skill, such as another language
- The chance to get some solid work experience
- Broadening your outlook on the world
- Helping people through volunteering
- Getting a new perspective on life
These days, there is another reason:
- Helping youngsters decide if the cost of university is worth it
With huge fees recently introduced in the UK, British students, like their counterparts in the US and other parts of the world, are going to wind up graduating with a big fat debt. So a bit of time away from studying can create a welcome relief and a bit of space to contemplate the future.
What Options are there for a Gap Year?
Travelling has always been a favourite choice and it’s a great idea to get out there and see the world while you are still young and free from the responsibilities of adult life.
Where do You Want to Go and What do You Want to Do?
Decide where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there. Do you want to go backpacking in Australia, working your way around the country, or would you prefer travelling by train to 6 or more countries in Europe?
If you want to travel around Europe, Interrail passes are relatively cheap and one of the best ways of getting around if you want to visit a lot of countries.
The site also has a search engine for youth hostels, probably the cheapest places to stay and a good way to meet other young people:
Make sure you have a good idea of accommodation, travel and food costs wherever you are going. In some countries you can get by on a very small amount, but others will be expensive. So before you go, you’ll need to have saved up enough to cover your expenses and your insurance.
Volunteering or Working Abroad
Spending time abroad, whether you are volunteering or doing paid work is a great experience and can, in many cases, help you gain new skills and add value to your CV or résumé.
If you choose to work or volunteer, it’s also a good introduction to the world of work and can help you get a clearer picture of what you’d like (or prefer not to have) in your future career. And for young people, it’s a big step towards becoming independent.
My first job ever, when I was 17, was a summer job in Germany, in a hospital in Hamburg and I went back the when I left school to work there for a year. I organized it through a nurse from the hospital who visited my youth club in Belfast, but these days there are organizations which will do all the planning for you.
If you prefer to go it alone and especially if you haven’t planned a work placement before you leave, make sure you have enough money to survive for at least a month, preferably longer, as it may take a while to find a job.
Do as much background research about working in the country as you can. This should help you either get a job in advance or show you exactly what you need to do once you get there. Make sure you have a visa if you need one.
Depending on where you are going, you could consider teaching English – if you have a TEFL qualification, you can apply to language schools but should do this in advance, but if not, you can advertise conversation sessions when you get there, giving your mobile phone number. But take precautions, always meet in a public place – cafés are great for language lessons.
If you are thinking of organized gap years, what is available?
There are a lot of choices and plenty of websites to help you make them, but organised gap year activities tend to come with a price attached. So if you want a 6 month internship in China, for example, you will need to save not only the fare and spending money, but also several thousand pounds for the internship itself.
Depending on your financial situation, this could mean getting a job for a few months -or two jobs – and saving every penny you can before you leave. But it would give you two new and really valuable experiences, the second no doubt much more fun than the first!
So there is an exciting range of possibilities, but for most of them you have to pay your way. On the plus side, you won’t have to look for accommodation or a placement and you’ll have people on hand to help you out, as well as other volunteers to spend time with.
For a list of some of what’s available, scroll down
What are the disadvantages?
There is always a risk involved when you take off to the other side of the world, but that’s pretty much true of anything you do in life. So learning to take risks is a very useful skill. The disadvantage of a planned trip, apart from the money, is that you might hate it, but feel obliged to stay because you’ve paid for it.
General disadvantages applying to all types of gap year are:
- Having to survive without friends and family and possibly being miles from home in an emergency
- Having to readjust when you get back
- Being a year behind your friends at college.
However, in most cases the advantages are going to outweigh the disadvantages and if you have your heart set on a gap year – go for it.
I certainly don’t regret my year working in Germany or the year I spent in China as a student.
These are sites I’ve found by searching on the internet. I haven’t used them and so they are not recommendations. Make sure you do careful background research and if you can, find people who have already used these organisations for volunteering or working abroad.
The sites often have a section for testimonials and you might be able to track people down via sites like Facebook.
Most of the gap year and volunteering projects require you to pay for the experience. So be sure to check all the prices and conditions.
This is by no means a definitive list – it’s just to help you get started and inspire you to do something different. If none of these projects appeal, you can do you own search or ask friends for recommendations.
Let me know of your experiences and any other other sites you’ve found helpful.
International Opportunities for Volunteers of all Nationalities
BUNAC has been involved in helping young people with both work and volunteering opportunities abroad since the sixties. Their site covers opportunities all over the world, for example in : USA, Canada, New Zealand, Nepal, Australia, Britain, China, South Africa.
There is a lot of information here, so take your time and have a good look.
This section of the site explains all the options available for summer jobs in the US and gives advice on how apply for a job and for a visa, information on flights. They also have a section on internships in the US, lasting from 1 – 12 months.
This site provides opportunities to volunteer in various sectors, such as working with children or conservation. Volunteers of all ages are welcome. You have to pay for your experience.
Project and price information on this page: Projects and Prices
SAVE Projects include combining travel and volunteering, working with communities or with wildlife.
Exact fees don’t seem to be available on the site, but they are said to cover “unavoidable costs including accommodation, transport, and a donation to SAVE to help finance the projects. “ You can volunteer for any length of time from 2 weeks and 2 years
Projects include travel and volunteering
Gap years information for all ages ,not just students. Opportunities are mainly related to conservation. And this one is mainly for personal development, but includes volunteering:
Travelling Classroom program is a unique blend of learning Spanish, travelling adventure and volunteer projects.
Prices for this one start at £825 for 3 weeks and go to £2550 for 12 weeks.
See more at: Travelling Classroom
This site is based in New Zealand but volunteers are international. Offers affordable placements abroad and the prices do seem to be less than other organizations charge. They vary from country to country and you can check them out here in US dollars:
Find a project that interests you and click the Learn More button for really detailed information:
They also offer paid TEFL internships: here’s an example: