How to prepare for a gap year as international students?

21 Jan 2021


Originating in the 1980s, the “gap year” has long been shunned outside English-speaking countries. But in recent years, the gap year system has been used more and more by students in France who wish to take a break from their studies to spend a year abroad or build up professional experience for their CV.

What is a gap year?

What do we mean when we talk about taking a gap year? Is it compulsory? How long can it last?

What is the definition of a gap year?

A gap year is a period in an academic course taken by a student as a break. This can either be taken during, after, or before your course depending on the university or business school’s policy. Students typically temporarily suspend their education in order to acquire professional, humanitarian, or even entrepreneurial experience.

What’s the legal duration of a gap year?

Although we often speak of a “gap year” to refer to this period, its legal duration must be between one semester and two consecutive semesters, i.e., one academic year at most. 

What is your student status during a gap year?

During this interruption, you continue to be enrolled in your institution, and it is required to issue you your student card. Also, scholarship holders can continue, under certain conditions, to receive financial aid. Therefore, you’re still eligible to take a gap year as an international student.

What’s the cost of a gap year?

Although you are in a gap year, you must pay tuition fees at a reduced rate. In business schools, the reduced rate is generally between 1,000 and 1,500 euros in the academic year of the gap year.

Is a gap year an option or an obligation?

While the gap is optional in all public higher education establishments, some private establishments make it compulsory. But overall, the largest business schools encourage it without making it a compulsory step in the course.

Why take a gap year?

It is usually an exception if a student needs to take advantage of a gap year purely to take a sabbatical year. On the contrary, this break allows you to get involved, to travel, to develop a personal project, and in the end, to add a few lines to your CV. It’s suitable for all students as a gap year for international students will provide the same benefits. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what you could do during a gap period:

Go abroad

Like many students, you can interrupt your studies to travel the world, take a language study trip, or even work abroad. You can improve your language level, your open-mindedness, and cultural awareness.

Gain professional experience

Although some universities and business schools, including IPAG, require their students to do an internship in a company every year, the gap period allows you to do a full year in a company, and potentially on a fixed-term contract. This is a real asset for your professional experience and undoubtedly the opportunity to be better paid than by being an intern. Also, you can carry out a mission in VIE (Volontariat International en Entreprise or ‘International Corporate Volunteering’) to acquire professional experience abroad.

Develop a personal or entrepreneurial project

You can also temporarily stop your higher studies to devote yourself 100% to an entrepreneurial project. For many student entrepreneurs, this step was essential for the success of their project.

Take another course

The gap is also the opportunity to follow an additional training course. You can very well, during a semester or a whole year, make a study stay in a university or another school, in France or abroad, within the framework of an exchange program for example. And of course, you may get ECTS credits where applicable.

Help out

What if you took a break in your student life to put yourself at the service of a cause that is close to your heart? In any case, the possibilities available to you are numerous since they range from civic service to volunteering, including solidarity volunteering, participation in a humanitarian project, associative volunteering, or even the International Voluntary Service (IVS).

How to prepare well for your gap year?

In France, most students take their gap when they enter the master’s cycle, but in other countries, it is often before the first year. Either way, here are some simple tips to follow if you want to make a success of your gap year.

Define your objectives

As we have just seen, you can temporarily interrupt your studies for multiple reasons, so ask yourself the right questions; How can I make the most of my gap year? To gain experience in a professional environment? To study abroad?To volunteer? To learn a new language? Set specific goals for yourself!

Establish a program

Once you know what you want to do, establish a precise schedule of 6 or 12 months during which you can work, volunteer, or spend a semester abroad. Remember to send your applications well in advance, depending on the responses you receive, you can adapt your plans.

Anticipate administrative procedures

The request for a gap year must be submitted a few months before your departure. Take care of your application file with your school. Argue your request, show that you already know what to do with your year, where you plan to go, and why it is an important step for your final professional project.

Now that you know everything about the gap year and how to prepare for it, all you have to do is think about what you want to do and of course… get started. Happy gap year to all those who will make this choice! Please contact  us directly or refer to your course leaders for advice on applying for a gap year at IPAG.