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Many people choose to take a gap year after graduating and the reasons for doing so are varied:

  • Didn’t take a gap year pre-Uni and just want to travel before getting a job
  • Need more work experience to decide whether a vocational post-graduate course is the right decision and worth the investment
  • Need more time and experiences to choose what career path to follow
  • Decided to apply for grad schemes the Autumn after graduation without the weight of academic work at the same time

Whatever your reason you should plan this time carefully to avoid drifting through the year and ending it in exactly the same frame of mind that you started it in.

My career wasn't planned as such. It was not until 18 months after graduation that I had an idea as to what I really wanted to do. Sometimes people need 'empty space' to find a path for themselves.

- Advice from a Cambridge student

Pros/cons of a gap year

Pros

  • The opportunity to gain experiences you can’t during most degrees (extended internships abroad, for instance), and the chance to build up your CV with interesting work experience.
  • Travel can increase your breadth of cultural understanding, and broaden your horizons more generally.
  • Time for further study, including language courses.
  • Distance from academia.
  • Time to make decisions and clarify ideas.
  • You could return a changed person and rethink career plans.
  • Chance to try something new or ‘give something back’ before you start a career.

Cons

  • Possibility of falling a year behind compared to your friends who went straight into a job.
  • Debts may increase.
  • You could lose a job if you have deferred a place (if the market downturns).
  • If abroad, you might miss application deadlines or be unavailable for interviews.

 

Thinking back to what you wanted to achieve with this gap year, is there the right balance between the pros and the cons for you? Everyone is different and has a different attitude to the "risk” of time away.

Myth – "I won’t be seen as a recent graduate if I take a gap year and won’t be able to apply for graduate schemes when I get back”.

Truth  – You don’t expire as a new graduate within months of your final exams. Many employers see a gap year as advantageous as they value the extra skills, life experience, confidence and even maturity that you gain during this time.

During the Winter, I took a TEFL course in Oxford, and on a whim went to Taiwan, where I had the best time ever. I quickly ended up teaching at a university there.

- Cambridge student who had a positive experience during their gap year

Planning your gap year
  • Are you aiming to apply for a particular role or sector on your return? What do they look for in applications?
  • Browse Handshake to research typical roles and organisations. See what skills and experiences you’ll need to have on your CV when you do apply.
  • Research the possibilities, as there might be more options than you think.
  • Look at the available vacation work feedback. It may be possible to extend some of these experiences for a longer period during a gap year.
  • What money will you need?
  • If you’re going abroad, check visa requirements, work permits, inoculations and insurance. The Government's Foreign Travel Advice website is invaluable.
  • When to think about it – Start thinking about a gap year at least a year in advance. There may be deadlines if you’ll be applying for language courses, internships, experiences abroad, or work experiences.

Working abroad

  • Before you go, ensure your budget can fund your plans, and thoroughly research the region you plan on visiting.
  • If you plan to work abroad write an appropriate CV; expectations in other countries are sometimes very different from those in the UK. See GoinGlobal for country CV templates.
  • What type of organisation can you work for?
  • If you’re hoping to "do something worthwhile" bear in mind that most large NGO’s look for a longer commitment and usually want qualified or experienced hires. So look for smaller NGOs and charities where you can get valuable experience which will lead to greater things in the future.
  • Beware of expensive "development-tourism" programmes, and check the small print of any arrangements carefully. Some agencies offer shorter work experiences but may expect you to pay for your own air fare. Shop around: many well run projects are available on your doorstep, operating from Cambridge and usually cost less.

Questions to consider before you plan this year

  • How much time do you plan to take?
  • What do you want to achieve in this time? Relaxation, skills development, work experience, money, getting out of your comfort zone... anything else?
  • Do you want to spend your gap year at home, or go abroad?
  • Are there any crucial times of year when you need to be in a particular place for applications and interviews?
  • Does the timing fit around other important commitments/deadlines?

Most applications can be made from anywhere in the world but if they should be successful you might be called for interview at short notice and not all organisations will agree to a video-conferencing interview. Going away in June for 4 months will bring you home in time for the milk round, 6 months and you’ll miss it.

Gap year resources

Careers advice while you're away - if you need the Careers Service during a gap year, all our online resources are still available to you, as are discussions with a Careers Adviser (which may be arranged by phone or Skype).

Deferred jobs for your return

If you know the job you want when you return from your gap year ...

It does you no harm to apply in your final year. At worst it gives you an experience of the application and interview process. At best you have a job to come back to.

Consider postponing your trip

If the job you want recruits in the Autumn, maybe take temporary work in the UK until December to earn some money to support yourself and your travels. You can then apply for jobs in the Autumn and go away knowing you have something to return to.

Finding a job when you return

To maintain access to the Careers Service after you leave, make sure you are registered and that your email address is up to date in your Careers Service account.

Sign up to our Handshake platform to receive relevant notifications, event information and to browse live job postings.

You have a job offer but want to go travelling?

Some employers will defer a job offer for when you return, recognising the benefits of a year away and getting that travel bug out of your system. Others won’t and will expect you to re-apply in the next round.

Be proactive and have that conversation early. Before initiating the conversation, be clear in your own mind on whether you'd be willing stay at home to take the job in the case of a negative answer.

Emphasize the positives for the employer of the enhanced employee they will have when you return.