What’s a Gap Year?

Read to find out what a gap year is, why and when the students take a gap year and what they do during this time.

Level B1

A ‘gap year’ is a period of time, usually an academic year, when a student takes a break from formal education before starting college or university. Taking a gap year between school and university is quite common in the UK and other European countries and there are lots of different ways to spend this time. During this time, young people often travel, work, volunteer, or pursue personal interests. It’s a chance for young people to gain life experiences, explore different cultures, and develop new skills before continuing their formal education.

People used to think that taking a gap year was negative. In the past you took a gap year if you had to retake exams or had problems between finishing school and starting higher education and then starting a career. But now, universities positively encourage a gap year and employers are happy to give jobs to students who take a gap year. A year out between school or college and higher education or employment,
or between higher education and a job, can give young people useful learning experiences, help them pick up new skills and make them more independent. Employers and universities want to see evidence of enterprise, maturity and commitment both in and outside formal education.

Young people in formal education usually take a gap year when they are about 18 years old, before going to university. They can also be taken at a different time, for example, by someone who wants to break up their degree course or to do something different before a postgraduate course.

Many gap year students choose to do voluntary work. This could include teaching in the mountains in Nepal, a conservation project in Madagascar, an expedition in Costa Rica or an internship in Japan. There are plenty of gap year volunteer work options to choose from. There is also voluntary work closer to home for British students – both geographically and culturally – including the UK, Europe and North America. Lots of gap year students just want to see more of the world. According to the British government’s Gap Year website, the top five gap year travel destinations recently have been Tibet, Indonesia, Taiwan, Eastern Europe and Canada. Popular gap year activities for young people looking for adventure include surfing in Hawaii, wake boarding in Italy, kite surfing in Egypt or bungee jumping in New Zealand.

Most students who are planning a gap year take on a part-time job to save up for the trip. Some young people look for work when they get to their destination if they need to earn money to pay for accommodation, food and their other expenses. Popular jobs include bar work, fruit picking and being a tour guide. A gap year doesn’t have to be a full year travelling or having adventures: some students travel for three or six months then work for the rest of the year.

Because the gap year is so popular and needs to be cheap, travel companies now offer structured gap packages where the entire trip is worked out for young people. There are three main categories of a structured gap year activity:

  • Expeditions, often with a conservation element and usually to developing countries
  • Courses to learn a skill such as a language or something that they can later teach others to do, for example windsurfing
  • Voluntary work in your own country and abroad.

Answer the questions:

  1. What is a gap year, and when do students typically take it?
  2. How has the perception of gap years changed over time?
  3. Why do universities and employers now encourage students to take a gap year?
  4. Is a gap year limited to individuals who are 18 years old and preparing for university?
  5. What are some popular activities pursued during a gap year?
  6. Can you name some destinations commonly chosen by gap year travelers according to the British government’s Gap Year website?
  7. Why do many gap year students take on part-time jobs?
  8. What are structured gap year packages, and why are they becoming more popular?
  9. Are gap year activities solely focused on travel and volunteering, or are there other options available?
  10. How flexible can a gap year be in terms of its duration and activities?


  • If you were planning to take a gap year, how would you choose to spend your time?
  • How would you save up enough money?