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Gap Year Guide: How to Have a Productive Year

So, you’ve decided to take a gap year. It’s likely that many of your peers are going straight into higher education as a record number of 18-year-olds did in 2022. You’re bucking the trend, but how will you ensure that your gap year isn’t a wasted year?

Gap year preparation

Think about why you decided to take a gap year in the first place: Getting financially prepared for university? Deciding which university course to take? Broadening your horizons by volunteering or traveling? Seeking a clearer view of your future?

No matter your reasons for taking a gap year, we’ve compiled a list of advice and tips to help you make your gap year your most productive one!

Make a Gap Year Schedule and Stick to it

Unlike in school, there won’t be a schedule or routine, which may be hard for some people and can lead to procrastination or other unhealthy habits.

Planning and scheduling your activities in an effective way helps you understand what you can achieve in the time that you have and helps you set key targets and priorities. This will eliminate stress down the line and plays a vital role in productivity and your decision-making process. In fact, short-term goals force you to be in the present and eliminates the looming sense of dread that big goals can create.

First, really consider what it is you’d like to accomplish, then implement a time management technique to help break down the steps you need to reach your goal. If your ultimate ambition is to build up a financial nest to afford higher education, ask yourself how you will realistically save money, earn money or make better financial choices.

The most important thing to consider is making goals that are achievable and actionable - after all, if you fail at the first hurdle, chances are you won’t be motivated enough to continue working toward them! An actionable task can generally be something that you can complete in a realistic and quantifiable timeframe (i.e. one hour, three hours, one day, etc).

One small step after another will inevitably lead to big results!

Travelling on gap year

Research, Research, Research

With endless possibilities at your disposal, the research that you conduct will become your compass in formulating a cohesive plan. Informed research offers a comprehensive picture of the benefits, disadvantages and special considerations you should consider when deciding how to spend your gap year. Depending on your arrangements, this may include any financial costs or application deadlines to keep in mind.

If you’re considering volunteering in the UK or abroad, carve out time to research the costs of organised schemes which appeal to you, insurance cover, and other safety advice you may find across social media or trustworthy websites. Reading reviews and articles from people who have experience will help you feel more confident and prepared.

Consider finding a university/apprenticeship fair near you or take a look at the VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) website to review reputable volunteering opportunities.

Gap year reflective writing

Take Time to Reflect

Reflecting on your progress throughout your gap year will help you identify areas for improvement, give you a chance to celebrate your successes and even challenge assumptions and change your plans altogether.

Reflective writing is an excellent tool to use when thinking about the actions you’ve taken and is an opportunity to ask pertinent questions: will you carry on with outlined steps? Try something new? Combine tasks?

When it comes to your gap year, with careful planning, it may be possible to combine more than one idea - who says you can’t volunteer for a few months, then register for an extracurricular course the rest of the year!

When you take the time to reflect, this time can become an opportunity to consider your skillset and career assessment. Perhaps you’ve developed new techniques or changed your mind altogether about higher education and want to explore something more hands-on like an apprenticeship. In fact, there are over 600 different apprenticeships in the UK and chances are there will be something you might feel passionately about.

Keep Calm and Revise On

If the ultimate goal of your gap year is to retake A-Levels or to reapply to the university of your choice, keep your studies ticking over by carving out time to revise and figure out what your academic gaps might be. Regularly going over practice papers and coursework helps to consolidate knowledge, which will help you identify whether the problem then lies in…

  • Your overall understanding of the concept or topic itself

  • Your techniques which are needed to tackle different exam questions and follow mark schemes: from essays to short-answer analysis.

  • A bit of everything!

If you are struggling to bridge the gaps you have, consider finding a tutor who can break down the processes more easily and help you tackle your areas of improvement.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed about an uncertain future, about your goals, or even about whether taking a gap year was the right choice after all. Reaching out to one of your academic advisors, teachers, friends or family may help to alleviate stress and can stop you from feeling overwhelmed.

There are many resources available designed to help you look for learning and training opportunities, some locally. The National Careers Services website offers career advice and a directory of free practical skill courses you can consider. UCAS takes a practical approach and offers advice, like how to craft the perfect cover letter and how to write a CV. Prince’s Trust lists a number of sites and resources to provide further information and support.


Blog Post Crafted by Cheryl

Cheryl manages our Admin Team, and is a qualified teacher with 5 years' experience in schools across England and Canada.

Cheryl graduated from McMaster University with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce and a Minor in English, and from University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Education, with a specialisation in Aboriginal Studies. She tutored secondary school students in English for over nine years in Canada.

Cheryl speaks Cantonese, English and French, and in her spare time, she can be found illustrating and reading children’s books for inspiration.



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