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Durham University

Careers & Enterprise Centre

Taking Time Out & Gap Years

Traditionally, the phrase 'gap year' meant a period of time taken out by students after leaving college or school and before starting university. Now, gap years can happen at any stage, by anyone, and for varying amounts of time. You can go abroad and experience different cultures or sample what the UK has to offer. Whatever your destination some examples of gap year activities include: conservation work; adventure travel programmes; summer schools; and internships.

After completing your university studies, taking time out to travel, work or volunteer can provide an excellent opportunity to re-energize yourself and potentially develop skills for your CV. It will also offer additional space and time to make a better informed career decision in the long term. To make the most of this type of opportunity, ensure your time out is planned rather than using it as a contingency option because you don’t know what else to do. Prior to deciding to follow this option, you will need to consider the benefits of doing so:

*Experience the challenge and excitement of living or working in another country.

*Explore your careers ideas through networking, volunteering and work experience.

*Achieve personal goals and ambitions before you commit to your professional life [e.g. travelling a continent, climbing a mountain or learning a language].

*Gain essential experience of a sector or profession before applying for opportunities e.g. in journalism, heritage related or psychological work.

How will employers regard my decision?

Most employers will view the decision positively as long as you can demonstrate that your time has been spent constructively and you can evidence the relevant skills and experience that you have gained. Some companies may even be prepared to offer deferred entry into graduate positions. It can be easier to ask about the employer’s position on this prior to any applications, for example at a careers fair or presentation.

Larger firms may have flexible starting dates and can accommodate graduates who may just want to have a few months away after graduation. For postgraduate study, you must check with admission tutors about possible deferred entry before submitting an application form.

What are my options?


The first thing to decide is whether this will be purely travel (such as backpacking or independent travel), or whether you will combine this with work/volunteering. Be aware that often there are significant costs involved in volunteering overseas, so it’s important to explore your options as early as possible. Think about whether you would like to travel to an English-speaking country, or use the opportunity to experience a different culture, learn a new language or enhance your existing language skills.

Voluntary work:

You can volunteer in almost any area of interest. Such work is usually unpaid, although you may receive an allowance to cover board and lodgings. The Careers Centre houses a wide range of information on the opportunities available in the UK and overseas. Many graduates taking a year out combine voluntary work with paid employment.

Work experience:

If you have specific career aims, you may need to spend time gaining relevant work experience. Some employers offer internships specifically for graduates, but in many cases this may have to be achieved through voluntary work or non-graduate-level employment. Be positive about this: it’s an excellent way to sample day-to-day work while networking and building up contacts in your chosen field or company.

Short courses/further study:

You could use your time out to undertake further learning via a short course or evening class. For example, study a foreign language, develop your IT skills or undertake something more specific to your career aims. It is also feasible to do this abroad while immersed in another language or culture.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL):

This is always a popular option as you do not need to speak the native language of the country in which you wish to work. Teaching is carried out in English and it’s a great way to experience a different culture. Some jobs require a formal qualification in TEFL (CELTA and Trinity are perhaps the most recognised qualifications) but some organisations, such as JET and the Chatteris Educational Foundation, will recruit applicants without these.


If you are considering travel abroad, always consider your personal safety and seek advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before you go – see

Further Resources

If you would like to learn more about specific opportunities relating to gap years, you can find this information in our Gap Year help sheet.