Taking a year out
If you want to go to university, you don’t necessarily have to go immediately after completing your A Levels. There is always the option of taking a ‘Gap Year’ first. Universities and employers will not be critical of your decision to take this time out but it is important for you to think carefully about how you will spend this time and have a plan. You can always ask the Sixth Form Team for advice and help, but here are a few ideas and questions for you to ask yourself.
How does it work when applying to university?
There are different ways of applying to university if you intend to take a gap year:
- You could apply in Year 13 but apply for a ‘deferred entry’ a year after you complete A levels. If you do this, include something in your personal statement about your gap year plans and what benefits they will have.
- You could wait until you have your A-level results and then apply in the next application cycle. This can be an advantage for getting onto competitive courses, as you’ll be giving actual rather than predicted grades.
Generally speaking, universities will look favourably on gap year plans as long as you will be doing something productive, which shows maturity and motivation. This could involve getting work experience, undertaking further study, travelling, volunteering, or earning money towards your tuition fees.
If you are thinking of taking a gap year, most universities will provide advice about taking gap years on their website or in their prospectus. It is also worth discussing it with subject tutors at university open days.
Advantages of a Gap Year
If you use your gap year wisely, it will broaden your mind and develop your confidence, independence, experience and new skills. Hopefully, you will have a fantastic experience alongside which, it can:
- Help you decide what you want to study if you are unsure.
- Give you work experience that will prove useful later on. Some vocational courses (e.g social work or architecture) will welcome the added knowledge you’ll bring with you when you start uni.
- Help you raise some money in advance towards your tuition.
- Give you a chance to learn new skills, from SCUBA diving to teaching to speaking a language – or absolutely anything else you want to do.
- Teach you to live independently, managing a budget and learning to look after yourself, before you go to university.
- Give you a sense of achievement.
- Give you a break from studying before you begin university life.
Disadvantages of a Gap Year
Of course, there are arguments against gap years too, or everyone would take one. Some of the reasons you might decide it is not the right thing for you include:
- A year off from studying can make it hard to get back into it.
- In the case of some subjects (especially mathematics and languages) not practicing your skills can make future study more difficult, unless of course you spend your gap year doing something that keeps those skills going.
- If you want to travel, funding can be a problem. Some people spend the first part of the year earning the money to pay for travelling later in the year.
- If you want to travel, you may prefer to do this with friends. If you can’t find anyone to go with, this might be an argument against going.
- The thought of spending a year living independently or travelling abroad may be too daunting.
How could I spend my Gap Year?
You can organise your own gap year and many students do. You can find a job or an internship, go travelling, volunteer, live abroad to learn or improve a language, enrol on a course (for example an Art & Design Foundation Degree, whether or not you plan to study a related degree in the future) or anything else you can think of that appeals. Just think through how you will use your experiences to enhance your application for university or a future job opportunity. If you are confident that it will make you a better prospect as an undergraduate or an employee, and you will enjoy it, then it makes sense.
Another popular approach is to enrol in a gap year programme. These can cost between around £2,000 to £5,000 and last for several weeks or a few months. They can be exciting and challenging, and you can choose a programme that really appeals to you and maybe suits the course you plan to do. For example, you might get an internship in Europe, or work on conservation projects in the Far East, or teach sport in Africa, or go on an immersion language course in Italy or China.
It is worth researching these companies carefully. There are some great ones around, but they can be very expensive, so do your homework and ask plenty of questions. Some of the links below will tell you what to look out for.
For more ideas and information about gap years and gap year companies, try these website links:
Prospects has lots of links to gap year companies offering a wide range of projects.
The Student Room also has lots of ideas for gap years and advice too.
gapyear.com is a social networking and advice website.