So exams are pretty much done and dusted if you’re in Year 13. Good job, pats on the back all round. If uni’s not immediately (or ever) on the cards for you, then now’s a great time to think about how to invest in yourself over the next year of sweet, sweet freedom.
The idea of a gap year might have been bounced around, but what is it really like? Who can do it? Is it a good idea? Thankfully, Push is here to help with a few good old FAQs.
Do I need to apply to university before I take my gap year?
No. You don’t have to, but it’s a good idea for loads of reasons.
For one, it means you that won’t need to worry about attending your interview at Bognor Regis University when you’re more concerned with keeping your kayak afloat on the upper reaches of the Limpopo.
Secondly, if you don’t get a place that suits you first time round, taking a year out gives you a second bite at the cherry. But not if you didn’t take the first bite earlier.
Do/did I need to tell the universities that I want to take a gap year?
In theory, you should. Having said that, it’s far from unknown for applicants to apply for the next year, then, once they’ve got their place, they tell the university they’ve changed their mind and now want to take a gap year.
Most universities, if they were willing to offer you place to start with, won’t feel any different about it the following year, but some say you should reapply anyway.
Occasionally they decide they don’t like being messed about and will turn you down, but that’s only likely to happen with the most uptight places and there are plenty of others that’ll take a more pragmatic attitude.
But in any case, they’re under no obligation to hold your place for you if you haven’t told them.
Obviously, if you’re already on a gap year, it’ll be clear from other parts of your UCAS form that that’s what you’re up to and you should do the 'defer' thing.
My results weren’t good enough, should I take a gap year and reapply or try to get in through Clearing?
Let’s say you’ve missed your grades and phoned the university department to try to haggle with them based on whatever you did get. They still won’t take you. If your first reaction is, ‘Okay, Clearing’, then take a chill pill. Not so fast.
What’s the hurry? What is it that makes going to university in the next few weeks so important that you’re willing to snap up some vacancy that the university couldn’t find anyone else to fill? Because that’s what Clearing is and you may well not like what you end up with.
Unless you’ve got some desperate reason why you have to start this, taking a gap year is a sound alternative.
Not only are there all the benefits of a year out, but also, once you’ve got your grades – however bad they may be – you’re no longer an unknown quantity to the universities. You can be a bum on a seat. Which, to them, means money in the bank.
Often they’ll give places to people with lower grades than they would offer to people who are yet to get them. And if your grades really suck, you could always spend all or part of your year out retaking.
What do unis think of gap years?
Most universities reckon if you’ve had a year out, you’ll have a more responsible attitude towards work and you’ll be better able to look after yourself. In other words, you’re less trouble for them.
There are a few strange places that won’t accept deferred entries. In these cases, simply don’t bother mentioning you plan a year out and when they offer you a place, ask them how they would feel if you deferred a year. Some will say it’s fine because they can fill their courses in advance.
The rest will ask you to reapply, but the fact that they’ve offered you a place before will probably work in your favour.
So, what’s the downside of a gap year?
First, it’s another year out before you can start earning, career building and sitting in offices complaining about one another. But so what? As long as the time out isn’t wasted.
Also, it may be hard to get back into a studying frame of mind. But that will only last a few weeks. It’s all habit. In fact, some students find they come back to studying with all the renewed enthusiasm of someone who never realised how much they liked EastEnders till the TV license expired.
Is a Gap Year just a way of delaying the inevitable?
It’s not a good idea to use a year off as an excuse not to go to university. If you don’t want to go, don’t. You can always apply later in life as a mature student. A gap year should be used constructively and not as an excuse, but it is just about your best chance in life to take a break.
For more FAQs, articles on the gap experience, ideas and research starting points, sources and advice, head to our Gap Years page.
LUCY HARDING is the Editorial manager for Push. She is an English Literature grad and an MA Publishing student at UCL. She is passionate about international relations and cultural diversity, having worked closely with her university’s Erasmus society to support European students. She also spent a year abroad studying at California State University: Long Beach
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