The term ‘gap year’ is a period of time, usually about 12 months, taken out by students after leaving sixth-form and before starting university. However, gap years now can happen at any stage in your life. Anyone can take a gap year and for different amounts of time.
People take gap years for a wide variety of reasons. You might want to backpack across Europe and experience different cultures. Or perhaps you want to work and earn some money.
Taking a gap year can be beneficial for several reasons. In this article, we will look at some pros and cons of gap years, things you can do in your gap year as well as some tips to help you plan your year out.
How Do You Apply to University If You're Taking a Gap Year?
If you are considering taking a gap year, you generally have three options:
- You can apply alongside everyone else, but for a ‘deferred entry’. This means that you are considered for an offer for the following year. However, check with the universities you wish to apply to as not all universities and courses entertain deferral requests.
- You can apply in the following application cycle after you have received your results. This gives you a better idea of what you have achieved, and what course you are thinking of applying to.
- You can request deferment after you have received your offer.
If you are planning to apply to a competitive course, you may be in a stronger position if you apply during your gap year. You will have a set of achieved grades, instead of applying for deferred entry with predicted grades.
Taking a Gap Year Before, During or After University
The best time to take a gap year is different for each individual. Many school and college students decide to take a gap year before starting university to engage in various different projects. However, this is not for everyone. Some students worry that they might lose the momentum for studying when they return. Others find the idea extremely overwhelming at this stage in their lives.
If you are determined to embark on that gap year adventure straight out of sixth-form, you’ll need to inform your chosen university of your plans. When you contact the admissions department, be sure to declare why you want to defer and what you intend to do in your year out. It is then up to the institution to assess each individual case. They'll then decide whether or not to accept your deferral request.
In order to justify deferring your place, you’ll need to prove that your gap year is constructive and that you’ll gain something from it. Choosing to do something related to your degree may also strengthen your case.
Taking a year out in the middle of your university years isn’t usually recommended as it can disrupt you from your routine. Students often find it hard to return to their studies once it’s over. Your peer group will have moved on and you will be surrounded by new people which can make settling back in more difficult.
Unless you have a good reason for taking a year out from your course, employers might perceive this as a lack of commitment. Have a think about how you will explain this. You will need to detail how what you learned helped you successfully complete your course when you returned.
Instead of taking a whole year out, you could possibly take a ‘mini gap year’ and use the summer holidays to travel, volunteer or work abroad. This will give you the opportunity to acquire skills that supplement your degree without missing out on any of your course. Moreover, by organising your trip alongside a full-time degree, you prove your time-management skills to potential employers.
The Erasmus+ programme offers university students (who have completed the first year of their course) the opportunity to do an internship abroad for a period ranging from two to twelve months.
After all those years of study, a gap year could be seen as a well-deserved break. You could use this time off to reflect on what you have achieved and decide on the best way forward. Entering the world of employment fresh from a break could benefit you more than getting burned out from years of studying.
However, due to the strong competition for jobs, you might be wondering whether putting off entry into the job market is ideal. But remember that a gap year can develop skills that employers value. The experiences you gain during this time can boost your CV!
If you want to spend your year outside of the UK, have your plan of action ready for when you come back. This will prevent you from feeling deflated due to not having university or a job to look forward to.
Does Taking a Gap Year Affect My Chances of Getting Into a Good University?
All universities and individual programmes will have their own views and requirements. Therefore, it is important that you do your research in advance. Most universities view a gap year as a positive and enriching experience, provided that you gain something from it.
However, they may ask to see a proposed plan and for you to demonstrate that you will maintain academic engagement.
Views in Oxbridge tend to be more varied. While St Peter’s College at the University of Oxford describes a gap year as “excellent preparation for university”, other departments (e.g. Maths at Oxford), are welcoming to the study break, but demand that specific academic work be completed during it.
Benefits of Taking a Gap Year
- It gives you an opportunity to have a break from studying and return feeling refreshed. You can volunteer, get valuable work experience, and travel the world.
- A productive gap year can add valuable experiences to your CV. You can develop transferable skills by learning to budget when planning a gap year, and you’ll need to use your initiative when making all the preparations. If you are going abroad for work experience or volunteering, you’ll also acquire skills employers value such as leadership and teamwork. The more relevant your experiences are to your course, the better. For instance, if you want to be a teacher, seek out opportunities to work with children.
- You can earn and save money towards your higher education costs or future plans by spending at least part of your gap year working.
- You can learn a new craft. If there’s something you have always wanted to try, your gap year is a great time to give it a go. Whether you fancy cooking, karate, or learning how to play an instrument, this is your chance to broaden your horizons.
- You can improve your language skills. If your gap year involves living in a country where English isn’t widely spoken, you should aim to pick up some common, useful phrases and keep building upon that. This will make you more endearing to the local people and also open up more job opportunities for you in the future. You may also wish to consider teaching English abroad.
- You’ll meet tons of new people. A gap year is an excellent way to meet different kinds of people you wouldn’t normally come across. In addition to expanding your social circle, you can use these new friends as networking contacts if they work in a field you want a job in or know someone who can get you a job. Networking and finding useful career contacts is something students are encouraged to do, and you’ll be ahead of the game if you start doing this during your gap year.
Cons of Gap Years (And Why They're Okay)
- Gap years can be expensive. From flights to accommodation and food, there are a lot of financial considerations to take into account during a gap year. However, if it’s an amazing experience then it’s completely worth it because you are investing in yourself and your future.
- You might be totally on your own. Being away from home for the first time is something every person has to go through eventually. You might be in a totally different country surrounded by unfamiliar people and culture. This is a valid concern and something that can scare anyone. However, being on your own will force you to rely on yourself and your self-confidence will increase massively. Being in new situations will help you learn a lot about yourself. Don’t worry, you got this.
- You might lose momentum. This one is a really common fear about gap-year takers (and their families). One year might lead to another and another and another (you get the point). However, this fear is not backed up by statistics. Gap Year Association statistics show that “90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college (university) within a year.” So while it is good to be aware of this con, be confident in yourself. If you want to go back to education, you will!
- It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind. Taking a gap year means you’ll probably be starting university a year later than your peers. You might see your friends posting pictures of their new dorm rooms or talking about their first lectures. You’ll be a year older when you start university and graduate a year later. However, remember that everyone has their own unique journey. Try not to compare yourself to what others around you are doing. Moreover, remember all the aforementioned benefits of taking a gap year and how taking one can boost your CV and skill set!
- Gap years require a lot of extra planning. The possibilities are endless and there are so many ways to personalise your gap year experience. All of that requires planning and it can be overwhelming. However, planning also means that you’re making your own decisions. Planning your gap year gives you the freedom to do exactly what you want to do (just be safe please). Use your imagination and follow your dreams!
Gap years aren’t for everyone. Some people are happy to continue on the path of education they are on and go straight to uni. For other people, a gap year is a great time to do something they have only dreamed of doing. Both routes are completely fine and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.
It depends on what your personal goals and ambitions are. If taking a gap year is what you want, then don’t let anything stop you. There will probably never be an easier time in your life to take a gap year than straight out of school.
Just remember to plan it carefully so you have a memorable yet constructive year!
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