Gap year

The Army internship: have the best gap year ever

21 Jun 2023, 15:42

Looking for a gap-year experience like no other? On the Army officer internship, you’ll make lasting memories, boost your career prospects and build your bank balance.

Soldiers running across a flat landscape: make lasting memories on the Army officer internship

The Army calls its officer internship programme the best gap year ever and it’s not hard to see why after you’ve spoken to Ed, who is now pursuing a Chinese and history degree but who served as a second lieutenant during his pre-university gap year. ‘I recommend the Army officer internship to virtually everyone I speak to,’ he says. ‘It’s amazing. Not only is it enjoyable, not only do you develop and learn so much and not only is the social side as good as what I have at uni, but you get paid as well. Most people lose money on a gap year but I finished mine up by a significant amount!’

Is the Army officer internship for you?

To apply for the internship programme you need to:

  • have, or be seeking, a firm place to read a first degree at a University or College, or have graduated within the last two years
  • pass the Army’s Officer Selection Board and have at least obtained a firm place to read a first degree by the time you start your internship.
  • be aged between 17-and-9-months and 28 years by the mid-September that you’d start at Sandhurst
  • be physically fit
  • have or be predicted 72 UCAS points (or equivalent) and 35 ALIS (Advanced Level Information System) points, including a C/4 or above in English language, maths and a science or foreign language.

But don’t think that this means that only a specific type of person should apply. ‘That’s a misconception that some people have and it’s absolutely not true,’ Ed says. ‘The people who were on the gap year programme with me were totally different in terms of personality, backgrounds and aspirations. As long as you like to be fit, like the outdoors and are prepared to work hard, you’ll do really well and you’ll really enjoy it.’

Applying for the Army internship

Ed applied mid-way through studying for his maths, history and biology A levels. ‘I didn’t have any family connections to the military but I’d joined the combined cadet force (CCF) at secondary school and thoroughly enjoyed it,’ he explains. ‘I heard about the gap year programme through a friend who was a year older than me and who’d been on it. I was considering a career in the Army and knew I wanted to have a gap year and so it was logical to apply.’

Details of the application process can be found on the Army’s website, but once you’ve filled in an initial application test and passed several online aptitude and psychometric tests you’ll be invited to first an assessment centre and then the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB) stage. The sessions entail a series of physical and mental tests, teamworking and problem-solving exercises and interviews. ‘In these exercises, groups of us worked together with different people appointed leaders each time. In our last command task, no individuals who led their team actually finished on time – but it’s more a test of how you can lead a group in complex situations, take charge, delegate and get things done than it is about the task itself,’ Ed recalls.

‘I left the AOSB honestly not knowing whether I’d passed or failed,’ he continues. ‘It was nerve racking, especially as I was just 18 when I was taking part, at the same time as people much older than me who were applying to be regular and reserve officers. But the thing about the assessment centre and AOSB is that they draw out your strengths and potential. You can’t really prepare for these stages and that’s kind of comforting, knowing that at that particular moment in time you either do or do not have the traits needed to be an Army officer.’

Obviously, he passed. ‘I was elated – really, really happy. I’d waited ten days to hear after the AOSB and the whole recruitment process had taken six months or so and I really, really wanted it. I would have been so disappointed if I’d have had to spend my gap year doing something else.’

Three army officers resting against an armed vehicle

Sandhurst and beyond

As part of the Army officer internship programme, recruits undertake nine weeks of officer training at Sandhurst. ‘I enjoyed it a lot. You train alongside other interns, Army reservists and professionals, including doctors, lawyers and priests – I was in a platoon of 30 and you see them all the time, you live next to each other and you are always working together, Ed says. ‘We created really good bonds.’

After passing out, you join a unit and Ed went to the Rifles. ‘One of my biggest misconceptions going in was that I wouldn’t be given any real responsibility – that I’d essentially only be making the coffee or setting up meeting rooms for presentations – but that really wasn’t the case for me or any of the other Army officer interns that I trained with,’ he shares. ‘For all of us, it seems the opposite was true: that we were pushed to the front and given a lot of opportunities to push ourselves and try new things.’

In fact, Ed was given even more responsibility than he had dared to hope for. ‘Usually, you go in and shadow a platoon commander or a deputy commander, but in the Rifles they had an opening for a platoon commander that wasn’t due to be filled for another 12 months, so I was asked whether I wanted to take it during the gap year,’ he explains. ‘I had a platoon of 30 riflemen and it was my job to carry out the role of commander, which was awesome.’

For the final four or five weeks, he took part in a current operation – although, intriguingly, he can’t tell you anything about it! ‘All I can say is that it was really rewarding to see what the Army does first hand, to get involved in it and make a bit of a difference,’ he says.

While this may sound daunting, there was plenty of support available. ‘There's a multitude of people you can go and speak to and I received lots of advice and mentoring that was really helpful.’ In fact, Ed names so many people who were there for him that there are too many for us to mention, but the list includes: the colour sergeant at Sandhurst, who mentored him before he took his posting; his company commander, who was not only a source of inspiration but also gave helpful pointers; his fellow officers; the Army priests; and the welfare officer with whom he became good friends. ‘Everyone I worked with was just brilliant, really motivated individuals who wanted to see others succeed and thrive,’ he summarises.

The social life

Part of that support comes from building bonds of friendship – something that the Army is good at. Some of the socialising is formal and ceremonial. ‘Regimental traditions are big and you’ll have formal events and dinners celebrating regimental history,’ he continues. ‘I recently attended a dinner celebrating the Riflemen that fell in the Crimean War. The Rifles are so passionate about their history and the standards they set for themselves – it’s a key part of the social life.’ But a lot of the socialising comes from living alongside one another. ‘By socialising together frequently outside of work, you build that camaraderie that will be so important when you are working in adverse environments. It’s as good as when you are at uni,’ Ed says.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to socialise when you have the funds to back it up and, along with regular pay, many of your living costs in the Army are subsidised. ‘You have a lot of financial freedom. All the meals are catered and I was only paying around £100 a month for my accommodation – the rest went straight into my pocket.’

Skills for life

The Army promises that the programme will teach you to overcome physical and mental challenges and develop your leadership skills. It’s clear that Ed learned that and more. ‘My friends and family say to me all the time that I’ve matured so much through doing the Army internship,’ he says. ‘I went from my mum and dad cooking dinner and doing my washing to looking after myself at Sandhurst. You’re given a very independent life very quickly and a lot of responsibility. Through the programme, you build up your confidence and an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.’

Another thing that goes hand in hand with this maturity is learning to have confidence in decision making and communication skills. ‘A big lesson is understanding how you come across to people,’ he says. ‘You can’t come across as a snotty 18-year-old to a 32-year-old Rifleman or to your senior officers. You learn how to communicate in a professional environment and that’s a skill that will be useful in whichever career I end up.’

Soldiers in and on top of an armed vehicle

Set up well for the future

Ed is now in his first year of university but has kept his links with the Army. ‘I am now a platoon commander in the University Officer Training Corps, which essentially enables students to become cadets while at university and experience a little of the Sandhurst training,’ he says. 'I teach a section of the course on Wednesdays and for one weekend a month – but it’s also hugely social.’

Career wise, he is exploring his options. He is able to apply for a bursary from the Army, but he chose not to, unsure if he wanted to join up immediately after graduating; he has a five-year pass as a gap year officer, which means that he can go back within five years without reattempting the AOSB Main Board. ‘I think it is very likely I will go back, as I had such an amazing time, but it’s also set me up for many careers in civilian life such as management,’ Ed says.

But right now, he is able to enjoy university life, while knowing that his Army gap year has set him up well for the future, no matter where it takes him.

Find out more about career opportunities with the Army

Head over to the Army targetjobs employer hub to view the full range of opportunities with the Army, watch its videos and get more Army-related careers advice. If you register with targetjobs , you will be able to follow the Army to receive their latest opportunities, careers advice and more sooner, alongside getting a tailored feed of careers advice recommended to you.

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