Bucks Employment Support

Bucks Employment Support

Supporting the Bucks community reach employment and learning goals

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Gap years

If you are thinking about taking a gap year you may have lots of questions? Maybe it is something that you would like to consider, but none of your friends are? In this section we will talk about the benefits of this 'once in a lifetime' opportunity and offer tips on how to make the most of your time. We will also look at the benefits of volunteering, either as part of a gap year or as a separate enterprise. Apart from being fantastic for the communities in which volunteers live and serve, according to research, volunteering is linked to a decrease in stress, better health and wellbeing, including a longer life expectancy! What’s not to love?!

What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is exactly that - a year off from studying to pursue other interests and activities. You could have plans in place for the end of your gap year, e.g. a university or degree apprenticeship place you have deferred. Alternatively, you may want to wait until you have left school or college and make applications once you know your qualification results. You can do this during a gap year.
What are the benefits of a Gap Year?

During a gap year you can:

• Give your brain a rest – so you go back to study or full-time work revitalised and motivated.
• Work to earn money for travel or for living expenses when you go back to study.
• Work to boost your CV and develop employability skills – especially social, communication, organisation and teamwork.
• Start developing budgeting and financial skills.
• Get involved in internships or work experience to figure out your preferred career / sector.
• Experience other cultures.
• Develop a passion you haven’t had time for before.
• Develop confidence and independence.
• Give yourself some time to figure out your next steps.

None of my friends are having one – I don’t want to be on my own at home if they all go off to study.

It’s very easy to be put off something if none of your friends are doing it, but we strongly recommend you go for it even if you are the only one. You can find casual work in retail or hospitality where you can meet other young people, and if you want to travel there are lots of opportunities for joining specific gap year programmes where you could make lifelong friends. We never hear anyone regretting taking a gap year, but many who do regret not taking one! You will certainly be proud of yourself that you had the courage to push out of your comfort zone – a key skill to develop which employers and admissions officers love!

Won’t it cost me more money to add to my tuition fees when I begin university?

Most students who take a gap year will work for 6 – 9 months and travel or volunteer the rest of the time. You can also travel and earn at the same time. This builds up financial resources, so you won’t end the year in debt. You could choose to work for most of the year so that you have a financial cushion when you begin studying again.

How do I apply for university and also have a gap year?

If you know that you want to take a gap year before you apply to university, you can apply for a deferred entry. You will need to use your personal statement to briefly explain your plans and the benefits. If you have already applied, you can still choose to defer your place, either once you have your offers or once you have your Level 3 exam results (although the sooner the better). Just contact the admissions officer of your chosen university to discuss.

What could I do with my time during my gap year?

• Employment. This could be while you’re living at home to gain funds for your plans or to get work experience in sectors you are interested in. This will benefit your CV and help you to decide what is right for you if you are unsure. Casual employment will be fairly easy to find (preferably with other young people) but internship or work experience may require more effort. You could also consider self-employment if you have a skill e.g. tuition.
• Travel while working. There are fewer opportunities to work while travelling than there once were, but popular options are ski seasons and American summer camps. See the ideas for other opportunities here. You could also travel in the UK while working e.g. for an outdoor activity company like PGL.
• Volunteering in the UK. If you have a passion for something which you could access in the UK why not consider it? This could be working for a local charity or going on an eco-trip to other parts of the UK. Click here for some ideas.
• Volunteering Abroad. This is a very popular choice and there is an enormous number of programmes. This is a good option for those of you who may not have friends to travel with. Be aware that the vast majority charge fees as that is the way they finance the programme. See Gap 360and The Leap for ideas.
• Travel. Travelling can provide a fantastic opportunity to broaden your horizons, experience new cultures and build confidence in interacting with a wide range of people. You will also need to organise your time, manage your budget and problem solve – all great employability skills to develop!

We spoke to a couple of students about their gap year experiences:


After A Levels, none of my friends were taking a gap year, but I had grown up hearing all about my parents’ gap years so wanted to experience that for myself. I found work in a local restaurant for five months to save up some money. I really enjoyed it because I met a lot of young people who were also on their gap years. I gained in confidence talking to different customers and I also trained in making cocktails and as a barista.
After Christmas I started my travels. My father had recently spent time in between jobs on an animal sanctuary in Namibia, Nankuse so I decided to do the same. I booked a month’s stay with them followed by an overland trip across Botswana and Zimbabwe. I met a lot of other students and arranged to travel to Indonesia in April with one of them.
I then worked again for a month before setting off to Pennsylvania in America to work on a summer camp [link] as a tennis coach (I had previously gained my Level 2 coaching qualification). I didn’t know anyone before I went but five of us then travelled around the states for a month. They are now some of my best friends and we meet up every new year in Scotland for Hogmanay.
My gap year was an amazing experience, and I was able to go to university feeling much more confident to make the most of all the opportunities there.


I finished my Level 3 BTEC in Fashion last summer. I wasn’t sure what to do afterwards, so decided to take a gap year to give myself time to decide. I had been working at Marks and Spencer while I was a student so had built up some savings. In October I went to Costa Rica on a volunteering holiday. I didn’t know anyone beforehand, but we were all linked up on WhatsApp, so I’d already made friends before I left! The experience was amazing, and I travelled for two more weeks afterwards with two of my new friends. We have now arranged to travel again in April to Thailand. In the meantime I am going to be doing work experience with a fashion company and a PR agency to work out what kind of work I’d like to do. I am very dyslexic so don’t want to study further – I’ll be looking for a full-time job in September.

See here for further information:

GAP-YEAR-DATABASE.pdf (independentgapadvice.org)
Gap Year Advice, Information & Ideas | Success At School 


What is Volunteering?

Volunteering is when you spend your time (unpaid) doing something for others. It is possible to volunteer informally within communities or formally through organisations. The decision to give up one's time should always be made voluntarily. In the UK, volunteering is widely practiced. The majority of nonprofits and volunteer organisations use volunteers in some capacity. Volunteers perform a variety of tasks such as:

• Raising money
• Practical support
• Sponsoring or organising events
• Organising campaigns
• Leading tours
• Serving as a trustee (a volunteer position with legal responsibility for a charity).
• Befriending
• Advising, guiding, or offering information
• Monitoring and conserving wildlife
• Administering first aid
• Supplying legal assistance
• Driving or transporting individuals
• Administrative support

Why volunteer?

Every volunteer has their own reasons for wanting to do so. These can include:

• Gaining experience to enter the workforce or change careers
• Supporting a cause that is meaningful to them
• Networking with others
• Giving back to the community by improving something
• Using their knowledge or experience to assist others
• Trying something new or different
• Learning new skills
• Continuing professional development.

The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that volunteering doesn’t just benefit the community and those that are being helped but that it hugely benefits the volunteer! The Royal Voluntary Service says that:

“Every year we ask the people who volunteer with us to tell us what it’s done for them. Every year, we’re delighted with the responses we get. Better physical and mental health and wellbeing. More confidence. New skills and valuable work experience. A sense of connection to others in the community. Those are just some of the things our teams say they get from giving their time.”

Research has shown that volunteering is associated with improved health and well-being, including increased longevity, adoption of healthy lifestyles and reduction in depression and stress.

As a young person, the other reason for wanting to volunteer is to gain work experience and improve your CV. A great way to win over potential employers is to demonstrate your ability to make a positive impact on society while developing the abilities necessary to pursue particular vocations. So, in addition to giving back to others, volunteering also gives you the opportunity to:

• improve the look of your CV with work/life experience
• gain valuable transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, time management, organisation and decision making
• demonstrate your initiative and proactive nature to employers
• build confidence
• explore different areas of work
• expand your network

You might also be given the opportunity to participate in training sessions as a volunteer. This could be something like a first aid course or some team building sessions. This extra training could come in handy when looking for employment and might set you apart from the competition.

How much time will volunteering take? 

Everything depends on you. Volunteering can involve a one-time commitment, an hour each month, a few days per week, or more. Before you begin looking for a placement, it is important to consider how much time and how regularly you would like to volunteer. Even if you have a hectic schedule or a full-time job, you could still be able to discover a suitable opportunity. Try not to overstretch yourself or over promise, it is better to start small and build up if you find you have more time to give. Volunteers spend an average of 50 hours a year volunteering and the majority of people only volunteer with one project at a time. How you do things is totally up to you. 

Will volunteering cost me anything?

You shouldn't have to pay to volunteer locally. You can confirm this before applying. The majority of employers will cover 'out of pocket' expenses, including reasonable travel charges. Volunteering overseas can be different, depending on the country and programme you choose. It is crucial to exercise caution and weigh all available costs. These costs can include travel, accommodation, insurance and food. You may not have to pay for all of these things. You will need to do lots of research before embarking on a volunteering program abroad and make sure you do so through reputable companies. Have a look at the list below. Go Overseas discuss this further on their website. 

Can I do it with my friends? 

The short answer is yes! If there is a friend or a small group of you who are interested in the same thing, or would like to help the same cause, then there is no reason why you could not do this together. Usually programmes are grateful for the help, but it will depend on their capacity. Remember - you may not get to spend time with your friends once you are there as you will be busy! A big part part of the joy and benefit of volunteering is to meet new people and make new friends, so it it worth thinking about challenging yourself to go it alone and see where it takes you! 

How much time will volunteering take? 

The other commitments in your life such as school, leisure activities or family will determine how much time you can devote to volunteering. There is no time restriction, but you should be realistic and make sure it doesn't interfere to much with other important aspects of your life. This may mean that you can give up a few hours per week, a few days per month, or the entire summer holidays, or, if you are on a gap year, even longer.

Where do I sign up?!

Volunteers are always needed by charities and non-profit groups including. You can also work at local community centres, hospitals, and schools.
Some groups may demand expertise and knowledge, while others may not be able to offer possibilities owing to the sensitive or confidential nature of their work. Volunteering is feasible in the majority of roles, but not all. Make sure you do your homework before applying.

There are a lot of websites out there that you can explore in relating to finding volunteering placements. We have put a few together below that you can explore:

Volunteering in the UK:

Reach Volunteering
Volunteering Matters

Volunteering abroad:

There are many options to volunteer overseas if you want to travel more. You could participate in initiatives involving animals, children, conservation, the community, education, medicine, or sports.
Volunteering abroad might last anything from a few weeks to a year. As mentioned before, you can use your gap year, to take on a volunteer position.

Look online for possibilities abroad:

Beyond Academy
Global Vision International (GVI)
International Volunteer HQ
Kaya Responsible Travel
Pod Volunteer
Tru Experience Travel
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
Volunteer Abroad

Start your research

There are many specialist sectors that require volunteers and you may have a particular sector that you are interested in. Here are a few ideas:

Mental Health
Animal care
Social Care
Arts and culture
Emergency/disaster work
Elderly care
Community regeneration
Sports groups

Once you start to look online you will see there are many local and national websites linking those that want to volunteer with the places that need the volunteers.

Online Volunteering 

Did you know hat you can volunteer from home?! Online volunteering is brilliant for those of you that would love to volunteer but for whatever reason cannot do travel or do so physically. Virtual volunteering is possible in a range or areas and roles from nest cam observations to TED talk translation, check it out!

United Nations online volunteering

Over to you...

Now that you know more about volunteering and the many opportunities available you can start to look for the perfect match for you! Ask yourself these questions: What would I love to do? Who might benefit from the help locally? What could I learn from the experience? How much time have I got to give? 

If you would like help looking or applying for opportunities, have a look at our Finding and Applying for Jobs section. 

Have fun!