Campervan driving on a dirt track in the desert

For many, the opportunity to go away is invaluable - it’s the first time you are away from your family, you have to fend for yourself and you have to learn how to do your own washing, cooking, meet your own friends from outside your social circle, manage your money and work for yourself. 

It is a break, and a well-earned break, but it can also be so much more than that. Here are a few ways in which a gap year can help define you and your future:

Becoming you

As well as the usual suspects of what gap years can offer you, it also creates the chance to step back from your environment, and understand what matters to you and how you can achieve your goals. It has often been noted that people who have taken gap years tend to be more sociable, open-minded, with wider interests and are usually happier.

A study from the University of Western Australia has shown that gap year students do 2.3% better in their first year exams than those who go straight to university. This is because gap year students expose themselves to new environments compared to school, they meet friends from different walks of life, and if they are doing charity work they meet people in a completely different position to them, all of which can give them a new perspective. You are away from the structured environment of the classroom and home, and have to fend for yourself. 

By the time you arrive at university, you’ll be used to fending for yourself and being away from home, and you’ll more of an idea of what you want to get out of university and life in general and where you want to go, so all your energy can be used to concentrate on studying. 

This new-found freedom and independence while away, can be quite daunting, but it also means that gap year students learn to make decisions for themselves, and their positive decisions can lead to a greater sense of achievement and increased confidence. This is also true in the work that they do, leading to them becoming self-motivated and self-sufficient. 

This overall self-realisation can help students understand what they want from their futures, and what matters to them, and can end up being the most important experience of their life. 

Young woman on a hat looking away from the camera

Standing out

Employers are inundated with applications from students and graduates with great qualifications, so a gap year is one way of standing out from the crowd. Having seen new places and met new people, you’ll have learnt about other cultures and people beyond the UK and will have a more mature attitude than those who have left university or school without any time out. 

A gap year is also a chance to develop further skills, especially those not taught at university, for example teamwork, initiative and determination, leadership, self-reliance and  planning. For more information on the specific skills you’ll have gained on your gap year, please see our What skills can you take to employers after a gap year? blog. 

You might also have gained some important industry experience on your gap year, and this can set you apart from others when you graduate. 

Career you

We all have careers advice in school, however understanding job roles at school and how they relate to the world of work can be very confusing. A well-planned gap year offers you the ability to try different sectors and work environments, potentially allowing you to target specific areas for future studies or your career focus, and find out what you like and don’t like in a workplace. You might reaffirm your future career choice, or you might find out how wrong you were, and it’s always better to learn these things as early as possible! You might alternatively stumble across something you find you enjoy, but would never have thought of, or perhaps didn’t even known existed, while studying. 

It can also provide you with a higher level of employability than your peers as you’ll obtain a wider skill set, which is a very useful selling point in today’s competitive job market, so you just have to make sure you make the most of the opportunities available to you.

A further advantage of a gap year is that it offers you the ability to apply for, and undertake, work placements outside of the over-subscribed holiday periods, especially as studying and an undergraduate degree is no guarantee to gaining employment. Employers often note that the practical experience available on professional work placements can complement academic studies, bringing the theory learnt in a classroom to life, and helping you build a network of contact whom you should keep in touch with.