When is the right time to take a gap year?

travel, gap year, time, Holly Barry, Kettle Mag
Written by Nigel Simpkins

Congratulations! If you’re reading this you’re no doubt nearing the end of your studies, be that GCSEs, A levels, or degree. You’ll soon be considering the next steps, inundated with information and decisions to make about A level subjects, UCAS or potential career paths. This can be a daunting time, given that you’re still in the process of overcoming your present hurdle.

A few will have their post-study plans mapped out already, however most will still be unsure. If you’re not clear on what you want to do, don’t panic, it isn’t uncommon to find yourself standing at a crossroad without a clue.

Often, what is most needed after an intense period of study is a break! A little headspace to demystify, clarify and ruminate upon your direction. Frequently, the serious pressures of education can feel claustrophobic. A great remedy for the stress, pressures and restrictions that study can create is a drastic change of scene.

There are thousands of different reasons to travel the world and see its wonders, but the biggest question is most likely ‘when’? If you’re unsure of the best time to immerse yourself in the colours and cultures of the rest of the world, we’ve put together a well-considered guide that will help you make a choice that is right for you.

Secondary School

If you’re just about to finish secondary school you’ll know that 5 years in education is a long time, especially when forced to study a whole range of subjects that aren’t necessarily suited to your skills and interests. Secondary school can be an especially difficult time for a lot of people. Piled onto the pressures of school, you’re trying to figure out who you are as a person, whilst navigating difficult social situations.

Taking a gap year after secondary school offers an effective breath of fresh air before making the big move to sixth form or college. Although a gap year may well be a great idea, you should bear in mind that your age could still pose some limitations on what you can do in your year out. There are a lot of specialized gap year programs available and reserved exclusively for teens, but although many of these are great, they may not offer you the full experience that you are after.

Despite this, going it alone for a year can be really positive for your personal development. It’s an opportunity to mature a little and a great way to prove to yourself that you can be independent and confident in your abilities. These are all essential qualities when preparing for the academic step-up that comes with A levels, apprenticeships or degrees. 

Sixth Form

Sixth form is finally the moment that you get to focus in on the subjects you love. You may not know exactly where they’re going to take you yet, but you’re acquiring in depth knowledge and critical skills that will help you to decide your path in the future.

If you’re considering university as the next step, a gap year could stand you in good stead with your favourite institution. Universities really value students who demonstrate interests and experiences outside of the realms of school. Going on a gap year shows that you’re confident, bold and adventurous- a student with an edge.

For the perfect personal statement it’s advisable to spend your gap year doing something more than just holidaying. There are lots of really exciting volunteer or work programs to get involved with.

Taking part in these programs are opportunities to gain attributes and skills that universities and employers are looking for. Unfortunately, staying up for 24 hours at a full moon party in Thailand doesn’t count.

Ultimately, taking a gap year allows you the time to reflect on whether the subject of your choice is really for you. That way, when you return you’ll be 100% certain of your decision. If you have applied to university already, it’s worth remembering that some institutions may not let you defer a year. 

If you are positive of the university and course you intend to do, would a gap simply be delaying the inevitable? How desperate are you to pursue your year out? Ask yourself these questions to ensure you are making the right decision for the right reasons.


After studying at degree level a lot of people are desperate to get away from the books and into the world of work. However, in the current job market many employers require that you already have some experience, which often means unpaid internships and long working days. If you don’t have the necessary experience and don’t want to spend months after university slogging away for free, a constructive gap year could be a good option.

Equally, having finished university you may just need a well-deserved time out, and what better way to spend it than immersed in another culture, learning a new language and seeing new things? Do bear in mind that you may have to spend some months saving, so it’s best to start thinking about this early. If you’re applying for graduate schemes or considering job offers, you should also consider whether a gap year would jeopardize a good opportunity. Weigh up your options carefully, it may feel like now or never but travelling the world isn’t exclusively reserved for gap years.

When considering a gap year it could seem like there is never the right time. Education, jobs and apprenticeships often take precedence over travel and this can be a positive thing. That being said, employers and universities alike are looking for more than a good student. They want somebody with experience, an open world-view, determination, independence and confidence.

Taken at the right time, a gap year can help you build these qualities. More importantly though, you should do what feels right for your own personal development and wellbeing. A gap year is a once in a lifetime opportunity to educate yourself outside the bounds of schools, universities or the workplace.

When choosing a time to go, consider what you hope to gain from the experience, what you want to achieve in the future, and whether you are in need of a well deserved hiatus.