Gap year ideas and how to plan a year out after graduating
Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:36
We present a range of gap year ideas for recent graduates that’ll also boost your career prospects and suggest an overview of how to plan them.
- Making the most of your gap year
- Gap year options: international internships | gap year programmes | work abroad options | working in the UK | volunteering | charity fundraising | short courses | backpacking
- Planning your gap year: funding a gap year | budgeting for a gap year | planning with graduate job deadlines in mind | deferring a graduate job
- How to use gap year experiences in graduate job applications
- Skills gained on a gap year
If you’re thinking about taking a gap year after university, then the question of ‘what to do on a gap year’ will surely have crossed your mind. A year out is the ultimate pat on the back for all the blood, sweat and tears poured into university and there are a number of gap year ideas to ponder.
Whether it’s to explore travel interests, to carry out volunteer work or to have more time to decide on a career – whatever your reasons, ensuring that your year is well planned and focuses on developing your skills will help you to make the most of your time out and to get a graduate job when you are ready.
Making the most of your gap year
If have a career path in mind for when you finish your gap year, you can actively seek out ways to develop the skills you'll need. If you aren't sure what you want to do, you could confirm what types of activities you enjoy doing, and what you are good at, by trying out new activities. For example, if you’re considering a career in management, you could find volunteering projects where organising people is a part of the role.
If you decide to take part in any activities abroad, read the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK , including checking the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office section, for the countries you plan to visit before leaving the UK.
And if you do any gap year activity through an agency or organisation, along with checking GOV.UK for foreign travel advice do your research to ensure that it is reputable and has high welfare standards. Ensure that you fully understand what you can expect and what is expected of you before putting any money down.
Gap year options
Popular ways to spend your year out include:
- completing an international internship
- taking part in an international gap year programme
- working abroad
- volunteering – in the UK or abroad
- fundraising for charities – in the UK or abroad
- gaining work experience in the UK
- undertaking educational short courses
- backpacking to experience different cultures .
There is, of course, a lot of overlap between the above options. Graduates often complete a number of different activities within a gap year, interspersed with part-time or short-term contract work.
Completing an international internship (sometimes called a gap year internship) is an excellent way to gain formal work experience directly related to your sector of interest while also getting a taste of what it’s like to live abroad.
Providers of international internships charge fees and prices vary depending on what’s included in the internship package and how long the internship lasts. Providers include:
- ABSOLUTE INTERNSHIP – internship opportunities with large and small employers in Europe and Asia.
- AIESEC – internships with large employers and small start-ups, in addition to volunteering opportunities.
- The Intern Group – internships in cities located throughout the world and at international organisations.
Depending on the host organisation, you may be paid as an intern.
Paid-for gap year programmes
There’s a vast array of gap year programmes available for a fee, allowing graduates to explore almost any interest anywhere in the world – all while developing new skills.
Fees may only cover participation or they may also cover the cost of other expenses such as obtaining a visa and accommodation. This will depend on the project you sign up for.
Common types of gap year programmes include month-long language immersion schools and organised trips (typically four to eight weeks) which follow a set itinerary. You may take part in activities such as sightseeing, language classes and outdoor adventure sports.
Providers of both in-person and virtual gap year programmes include (these organisations also provide international internships and volunteering opportunities):
- Education First (EF)
Working abroad after graduation allows you to broaden your international horizons while also bolstering the work-experience section of your CV. There are a few popular ways in which you can find paid employment and these include:
- securing a working holiday visa
- working at a US summer camp
- teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)
- finding a work-abroad placement via the Turing Scheme
- undertaking a work-abroad opportunity through the British Council .
You can also see our country-by-country guides for more information about working abroad.
Working holiday visas
A select few countries have working holiday visa programmes in place that grant UK citizens the right to travel and work there for up to 12 months. Example nations include Japan, Hong Kong and Australia.
Visa applications cost money and each country has its own set of eligibility requirements and scheme rules. You can check these on the websites for the respective governments.
Working at US summer camps
Working at a summer camp in the US is a common choice for recent graduates who want to work paid positions abroad during a gap year.
At US summer camps, sports coaches/counsellors are sought, but they also need staff to supervise water activities, teach arts and crafts and train budding athletes, actors and musicians – and to get involved behind the scenes with food preparation, cleaning, maintenance or laundry.
Providers of summer camp schemes include:
- Camp America
- Wild Packs .
Each of these organisations charges a fee. Camps pay a small amount and most people save this for travel following the end of camp.
You can find out more about internships, exchanges and other opportunities from our advice on working in the US after graduation.
Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL)
Many a graduate chooses to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) abroad during their gap year and a number of organisations will provide placements for you. The salary for TEFL teachers varies according to the provider and the location and you often need to complete a TEFL qualification before you apply.
An externally accredited TEFL course of at least 120 hours is the typical minimum requirement (CELTA and Trinity qualifications are among the most highly recognised qualifications). However, a few organisations, including the Japan Exchange and Teaching programme (JET) and the Chatteris Educational Foundation , will hire you without a TEFL qualification.
Want more TEFL advice and to discover TEFL opportunities?
The Turing Scheme and the British council
The Turing Scheme (formerly Erasmus+) is the UK-Government-run initiative that funds international study and work placements for students and recent graduates of universities in the UK and British Overseas Territories. You apply for opportunities via your university and the level of funding you receive depends on the programme you apply for and your socio-economic background. Speak with your university to find out what opportunities are available.
The British Council is our final suggestion for working abroad during your gap year. It arranges a variety of study and working abroad opportunities for students and recent graduates.
Gaining work experience at home
Getting work experience in the UK is a cost-friendlier option to build your CV during your gap year.
You could look for a part-time position within your sector of interest and use this to determine whether a full-time career in the field would suit you. If you’re weighing up more than one sector for a career, then you could seek short-term opportunities in these sectors to help you decide.
Depending on your sectors of interest, you may find internships that, as a graduate, you can still apply for. However, as internships across most sectors are offered to undergraduates, you’ll have a better chance of securing a position by applying for short-term work contracts or sending speculative applications.
More on securing work experience within the UK
Volunteering, either within the UK or abroad (both in person or online) is another way to gain new experiences during your gap year and also demonstrate a level of dedication to a specific cause or sector.
You could get involved with groups in your local community. For example, with the Scouts, a church, a homeless shelter or a charity shop. The do-it website has a free database of national volunteering opportunities.
In addition, Volunteering Matters organises community-based placements all over the UK. It provides accommodation and day-to-day living expenses for full-time volunteers.
Large non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace and WWF also have volunteering opportunities in the UK.
International volunteering projects tend to focus on tackling environmental or social issues in developing countries. Common projects include community development initiatives, wildlife conservation and English teaching.
Providers of international volunteering opportunities include:
- Global Vision International (GVI) – marine and wildlife conservation projects (GVI Planet) and community-based social projects (GVI People).
- International Volunteering Service (IVS) – short-term (1–4 weeks) and long-term (1–12 months) opportunities worldwide.
- ProjectsAbroad – a wide range of projects including sports coaching, conservation, teaching and construction.
- United Nations Volunteers (UNV) – various projects worldwide with different UN agencies lasting from one week to twelve months.
You can also see what volunteering opportunities are available with the organisations listed in the ‘gap year programmes’ section above.
Depending on the organisation, you may need to pay a fee. There may also be academic and/or work experience requirements (eg for some UN projects). Some organisations provide financial assistance to cover living costs.
Volunteering abroad can be emotionally testing and you may find yourself in difficult situations. Be sure that you understand what a project entails, including the nature of the work, eligibility requirements and financial implications before applying.
Fundraising for charities
Fundraising for a charity is another gap year idea that can be carried out both in the UK and abroad. You could apply to work for a charity or fundraise as an individual.
Charities hire fundraisers to go door-to-door and to attend events to raise money. Previous experience isn’t usually a requirement, but you’ll need to be confident enough to approach people and build rapport quickly. As a charity fundraiser, you’ll gain work experience and develop your ability to persuade and influence.
Alternatively, you could raise funds by organising your own fundraising events and asking for donations or being sponsored to take part in challenges either in the UK or abroad.
For any individual fundraising, you’ll need to keep a record of all payments. Platforms such as GoFundMe and Facebook will make receiving digital payments easier. You’ll also need to keep on top of organising events beforehand and running them on the day. Successfully doing so can demonstrate project management skills.
Events that you could organise and charge for in your locality include:
- an afternoon tea and bake sale
- a quiz night
- a coffee morning
- a sports tournament (eg 5-a-side football, rounders or volleyball).
Potential challenges that you could ask to be sponsored to take part in include:
- hiking up a mountain (eg Ben Nevis, Mont Blanc or Mount Kilimanjaro)
- entering a long-distance running event
- completing a triathlon
- doing a skydive
- walking a long distance over multiple days.
Taking part in an event or activity abroad adds another layer of organisation and cost to your plans, so you’ll need to start planning and saving for personal expenses with plenty of time beforehand. Plan ahead to ensure you obtain any required visas and permits, book transport and accommodation, and pay any required fees.
For activities that can incur considerable personal expense, such as hiking up a mountain abroad, you could use sponsorship money to cover costs. If you do this, be sure to make it clear to sponsors that some of the funds raised will be used to cover expenses and give yourself extra time to raise money.
Educational short courses
Signing up to a short course is a fun way to learn new skills. You could choose a course related to your career of interest, or you could delve into a course purely out of interest.
Short courses can also be conveniently fit in between or around other planned gap year activities.
When deciding on a course, consider how reputable the provider is and whether you will earn any accreditation. For example, many universities provide short adult-learning courses (both in person and online), the completion of which results in higher education credits or are recognised as continuing professional development (CPD).
- Find out more about advancing your career with online courses .
Some graduates choose to spend their gap year living a more nomadic lifestyle to experience different cultures. Backpacking is a budget-friendly way to do this and it can create some unforgettable memories and international friendships.
To truly make the most of a backpacking adventure, make sure to plan experiences that will help you to grow your skills as well as your memory bank. A well-organised trip that enables you to undertake a range of experiences and use multiple skills can especially impress employers.
You could break up your travels with stints of voluntary work, language classes or by studying a short online course. Depending on your interests, you could plan your trip to revolve around specific activities.
For example, in each country you visit, you could make it a goal to undertake a minimum number of hours of voluntary English teaching or to take part in a distance running even and incorporate training sessions throughout your trip.
Undertaking a specific activity throughout your trip can demonstrate to employers your ability to commit to a plan and organise your travels accordingly as well as your determination and focus to better a specific skill or ability.
Keep in mind: if you choose to backpack, you’ll be responsible for every aspect of your trip, so allow yourself extra time to plan.
How to plan a gap year
When planning your year out, you’ll need to consider:
- how to fund a gap year
- how to budget for your gap year if doing any traveling
- how to plan while keeping application deadlines for graduates jobs in mind
- what you’ll do if you secure a graduate job before starting your gap year .
How to fund a gap year
Many graduates undertake short-term contract, part-time work and/or zero-hour contract jobs to fund their time out – often for the first few months before going traveling. For example, you could get fixed contract work as a maternity cover. Registering with a temp agency may also help you find short-term positions.
If you are going to work for a good cause while you are overseas, you could fundraise by asking family, friends and other contacts to sponsor you or to donate cash to support your project.
If you have a job lined up to go to afterwards, you may be able to persuade your prospective employer to support your efforts, depending on the nature of your venture and how it fits in with the company’s values.
The same goes for local companies or any other organisations that you have some connection with.
Thinking of borrowing money to pay for your gap year? Your bank is unlikely to give you a loan to go traveling. Some parents are able and willing to lend funds to their children. If you do borrow money, make sure you understand, and can make, the terms for repayment from the outset. Be wary about funding your trip on your credit card.
How to budget for a gap year
Budgeting is crucial when planning a gap year and an important part of making sure you enjoy your time out.
If you plan to spend time working in the UK to pay for any travel during your year out, you need to set a target for how much money you need to earn in total and then figure out how much you’ll have to earn each week in order to reach that target.
The amount that you need to save will depend on your travel plans, but you’ll need enough money to cover expenses such as transport, visas, travel insurance, accommodation, food and anything you need to buy before you go, such as any travel vaccinations. You’ll also need money for any activities that you want to do while you’re away.
Most travelers spend more than they expect, so having some emergency money put aside is a must. It’s also important to think about expenses that you’ll incur in the time between your return home and starting work and setting aside some money for these as well.
Be realistic when planning what proportion of your earnings you can set aside for travel. This includes deciding how much money you need to spend each week on other things, particularly if you have rent or bills to pay.
If you are joining a programme which charges a fee, it may be that you could get some of the money required through fundraising – depending on what you’ll be doing.
If you choose to do your gap year with an organisation, it’s important to make sure you do your research properly and are fully aware of what is paid for and what isn’t.
How to plan a gap year with graduate job deadlines in mind
Traditional graduate programmes typically open for applications in the September and October of the previous year. Application deadlines often fall in the November and December, with interviews and assessment days in the new year and offers in March/April.
- Find out the key dates and timelines for your career as a solicitor , barrister or investment banker .
Depending on your plans, you may want to: stay within the UK for a portion of your gap year to apply and be available for interviews and assessment days; ask to delay your start date; or wait and apply on your return.
After all, you may not have to wait until the autumn in order to apply as many employers advertise ad hoc graduate jobs at any time of year. The broad exceptions to this, however, are traditional graduate professions such as law and investment banking. They tend to run structured entry programmes for graduates (in law these are known as training contracts or pupillages) and rarely hire outside of these schemes.
More help for planning a year out in line with graduate job applications
Deferring a graduate job start date if taking time out
It may be possible for you to gain a graduate job offer before a gap year and to postpone your starting date until after you’ve taken some time out.
Some employers state their policy towards deferring start dates on their recruitment websites: their FAQs sections often address this topic. Otherwise, you will need to ask the recruiter (we suggest you do so at careers fairs or events before you apply to avoid wasting your time).
However, many recruiters specifically hire for vacancies for the current recruitment year and they also may not be able to predict their demand for the following year. This is particularly the case during uncertain economic times.
So you need to think about what you will do if the recruiter says no: will you reject the job offer or not take a gap year after all?
If you are determined to have a gap year, it may be wise to wait and apply for graduate schemes or immediate graduate jobs when you return.
Using gap year experiences in graduate applications and interviews
The activities you complete on your gap year can develop your skills and broaden your experiences; in short, they can make you that mythical ‘well rounded candidate’ whom all employers want.
While employers will be most impressed with gap years that you have organised yourself (indicating a proactive mindset) or that are relevant to the profession (such as volunteering at a Free Representation Unit or Citizens Advice if you want a law career), any gap year can be used as evidence of your abilities – unless, that is, you have spent the year binge-watching Netflix!
Include all of your gap year experiences on your CV, even part-time jobs, and outline the skills you developed, your achievements and the challenges you overcame.
You can also use your experiences to answer competency questions in application forms and at interviews. Your experiences can also be draw upon when answering ‘Tell us about yourself’ or ‘What would you do if…?’ interview questions.
For example, a recruiter told targetjobs how impressed she was when a candidate answered a question about how they would negotiate with a supplier by explaining how they bartered prices in a market while in Marrakesh.
Extra help for your CV, applications and interviews
As you undertake each gap year activity, if you can, keep a record of what you have achieved, the problems you have solved and the skills you’ve used. You could update your CV as you go.
Upskilling during your gap year
Individual activities will develop different skills, but most gap years will have helped you develop the following qualities:
- resilience (by traveling independently or dealing with setbacks)
- initiative and proactivity (particularly if you planned your gap year)
- planning and organisation(developed by planning your gap year budget and finding gap year activities)
- cultural sensitivity and an awareness of different cultures (most likely if you have travelled)
- problem-solving skills (if you had to work out how to fund your time out, for example)
- adaptability and flexibility (gained by adapting to a new environment or when the unexpected happens, for example)
There’s also the opportunity to develop extra skills, such as digital content and writing skills, by recording your gap year experiences – not to mention how great the material will be for reminiscing. You could:
- create a blog website
- create a portfolio of photos
- keep a diary
- simply post on Instagram.
This article was last updated in September 2022 .
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