How a gap year can improve your university prospects

OK, so you've got your results and have missed your university offer(s). Another university has offered you a place in Clearing, but you're not certain that's where you want to go. 

Before you make a snap decision, take the time to consider all your options. A gap year can be a great idea, since it gives you time to try getting into a university that you really like, while having some fun along the way. 

So why might you be better off taking a gap year and reapplying?

  • There will be more universities available to you, not just the ones that happen to be available in Clearing. If the unis available in Clearing don't feel like a great fit for you, this gives you the chance to find one more suitable.
  • You'll have more time to do your research, whereas in Clearing it can be something of a rush (though TSR has some guidance on getting the best from Clearing). This gives you the chance to make sure the university is a good fit for you.
  • It's more likely that you'll be able to go to an open day, although some universities do have open days specifically for Clearing applicants.
  • You're much more likely to get a place in halls. While a few universities do guarantee a place in halls for Clearing applicants, the majority do not. Each university will state its policy on its website.
  • For many people, a gap year offers a chance to reevaluate their course – as well as uni – choice. You're a year older and wiser, and your gap-year experiences can help you to get a better idea of who you are and where your strengths lie.
  • You can improve your application, and gap years can be a lot of fun too!
gap year

OK, so how can a gap year improve your chances of getting into uni?

  • You can retake some A-level modules (though you should be aware that if you do this, some universities will raise their offer, so do check in advance).
  • You'll know what your A-level grades are (unless you're resitting) which will allow you to target your applications more accurately.
  • You can get relevant work experience/internships/voluntary experience. This is particularly the case for applicants to degrees which have a vocational aspect e.g. medicine, nursing or law. But it's also relevant for people who are doing degrees that are purely academic e.g. history or maths.
  • As a bonus feature, unless you are resitting then any offers you do get will be unconditional, so there won't be any results day stress!

What about taking a chance on the university you got into in Clearing?

This is a decent option, but there are potential pitfalls. 

  • You might be happier at a different uni, and taking a gap year could allow you to get there
  • If you don't like it, and drop out, then there are student finance implications
    • While Student Finance England will fund you for the whole of your new degree if you drop out before the second year, it will mean that it will not fund you for an extra year if either (a) you don't like your new degree, or (b) you fail a year and need to retake. You can find out more details on our student finance hub
    • You'll still have to repay your student loan in the normal way
  • If complete your degree and then decide later on that you want to do another, there are also student finance implications in the form of the Equivalent & Lower Qualification (ELQ) rules.
    • You won't get any student finance for a second degree (with the exception of a few NHS-funded degrees e.g. nursing.
    • Many universities will charge you significantly more than £9,000 a year in tuition fees, even if you are a UK student, and you will have to fund all of this yourself, up front.

Taking a gap year can give you the time to make the right decision about the uni you're going to. 

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so what else might you do on your gap year?

gap year
  • Get a job and earn some money. Even if the job seems completely irrelevant to any career ambitions that you have, it will (a) give you the transferable skills that other employers will want, and (b) earn you some money, which you can either use to go travelling or take to uni as a nest egg.
  • Learn a completely new skill – you could do anything from learning to fly to joining the Territorial Army to learning to dance. With that new job of yours, you'll have the money to fund it, too.
  • Go travelling – the world is your oyster! Travelling doesn't have to be expensive, and nor does it have to involve the pricey package/volunteering trips that you often hear about. You can consider:
    • Working abroad – the EU is open to you, but in addition, Canada, New Zealand and Australia offer Working Holiday Visas.
    • Volunteering abroad, but organising it yourself, which is invariably far cheaper. A common arrangement is to trade a few hours a day of your labour for free bed and board. Popular websites to help you find such arrangements are HelpX,WorkAway and WWOOF (these sites also offer UK-based opportunities).
    • Interrailing around Europe. This is a relatively cheap way to see lots of different bits of Europe over a period of time.
    • Opting for a developing country. South-east Asia is a common backpacker destination for a very good reason. Flights there may be more expensive than going to Europe, but once you get there the cost of living will be far, far cheaper.
    • If you haven't got any friends who are taking a gap year and who have similar travel plans, then it's entirely normal to travel solo. When you're staying in hostels, you'll meet loads of new people, many of whom will be travelling solo too. You may be travelling solo, but you'll never be travelling alone.

Check out TSR's Gap Year and Travel forums for more ideas, tips and advice. 
You might not have originally planned to take a gap year, but if you do take one you should make the most of it. In the immediate aftermath of some disappointing exam results, it might seem like the worst thing in the world. But with a little effort and planning, you can find yourself happy that things turned out the way they did.