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What Is A Gap Year?

If you’re a final year undergrad student you’ve probably started hearing the phrase, ‘ I’ll probably take a year out’ cropping up in conversation, or indeed used it in answer to the inevitable cross-questioning about "The Next Step" from your friends, family, neighbours etc. This, in a nutshell, is the post university gap year.

Let's take a look at what a gap year is and what the benefits are of taking a gap year.


At this stage you and your friends will be looking at all sorts of avenues as you map out your future and each of you will find your own direction, whether it be further study, a grad scheme or being a self-employed creative. However before you get there you may feel the need to take a year to collect your thoughts, apply for jobs, seize the opportunity to try new things. Even if a year out is forced on you through lack of employment or general life plan it can be a blessing in disguise...

Time to figure out what you really want to do

At present lots of students find themselves at the end of their undergraduate degree without a job to go to or without even a clear idea of how they want to earn their future living. If this is the case it’s much better to take some time to peruse the job market and innumerate grad recruitment websites for careers that appeal than jumping into something unsuitable.  Trust us; the excitement of purely having a job rapidly fades if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. It makes a lot more sense to work out your interests and ambitions and then match them to a job, and once you start looking you’ll be struck by the sheer variety of career areas there are that you’ve never even heard of but are right up your street.

What is a gap year?

Time to make yourself stand out

To combat the aforementioned idleness, in between sorting out your life you can also use a gap year to carry out some preliminary steps to achieving your goals. Now’s the time to do something unusual to enhance your career prospects or that’s relevant to your future Master’s/PhD course. An interesting internship or rewarding voluntary work, say (see our Gap Year Ideas article) or if these opportunities prove unforthcoming start something up yourself, like writing a blog on a particular subject or asking around your parents’ friends/friends’ parents to see if they could use an assistant in any capacity in their jobs.  Even if it’s just to have something to talk about in a job interview, at least you can show you’re using your year out productively.

Time to hop on a plane

Travelling abroad is covered more extensively in our other gap year articles (see Gap Year Volunteering and Gap Year Checklist ), although it deserves a brief mention because it’s the activity that springs to mind the most when you think of gap years.

When you have 12 months to play with there’s plenty of time to fit in a spot of jet-setting, although on a student budget you won’t be going anywhere near 5 star hotels!  Still, backpacking can make the experience all the more formative and may even be the start of an enduring fascination with a particular part of the world.  

Time to enrich your mind

If you’re planning on pursuing a masters degree or PhD course after your gap year it may serve you well to immerse yourself in your subject of choice to give you a head-start.  Reading all the books you will ever need before you’ve even started may be going a bit overboard, but giving yourself a grounding in the main topics or issues surrounding your subject area will deepen your entire understanding of it. Keeping up with the latest news stories and developments in the field will also mean that you have a larger frame of reference and context for your subject when you start your course than if you only begin taking notice of them from when you re-enter academia.

Gap Year Essentials

Regardless of whether you wanted a year out or not it a gap year can be essential, a valuable time to recharge your batteries and just have a bit of downtime or me time. The progression from school to university to job/postgraduate study can feel like you’re on an unrelenting hamster wheel at times so stepping off can give you some much needed respite to figure out what’s next. The cynics amongst you may see this as us advocating idleness, but allowing yourself space in your hectic life to make a solid long term plan is important. After all, it’s the rest of your life we’re talking about here.


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