Is it a good idea to take a gap year before university?

students sitting together on grass at campus

Get the inside track on what it’s like going to university after taking a gap year, with tips and advice from UEA staff and students

There are many reasons for considering a gap year before university. Maybe distant shores are calling your name. Perhaps you fancy getting a bit of work experience and earning some money. Maybe you just really need a break from all that learning. 

Making all those plans is the fun part - but for many people there comes a point where you start questioning whether a gap year is actually a good idea after all.

Will I remember how to study? Will I just want to stay in work? Will being a year older make it harder to make friends? 

And if you’re looking at going travelling - whether it’s a big trip around the world or a few weeks Interrailing across Europe - there’s the unavoidable challenge of how to afford it all.

Questions like these get posted on The Student Room’s gap year forum regularly, so we asked some of the most common to staff and gap year students at UEA. Below, they share their thoughts on the benefits and challenges of starting university after a year away from education. 

If I don’t go travelling on a gap year, will I ever get round to it?

If your main purpose for wanting to take a gap year is to experience life in a foreign country, don’t assume that a gap year is the only option. At many universities, there will be the option to study abroad during your degree. 

“A gap year can be amazing – but choosing not to take one doesn’t limit your options for international experience,” says Annie Kay, study abroad manager at UEA.
“There are so many opportunities to study abroad as part of your degree, and at UEA we have lots of options. It’s a really supportive way to live abroad.”
That support is an important part of studying abroad as part of your degree - you can expect your uni to have a structure in place that will help. 
For instance, UEA students who study abroad go to a university in another country that has an exchange relationship with UEA. 
“That means they know your home university and are used to welcoming students like yourself,” says Annie.
“The other nice thing about spending time abroad after you’ve started a degree is that you know what you’re interested in. 
“So you can study your degree subject from a different angle, explore and have adventures, and get what you need from the experience.”
You’ll also be doing some serious CV building, adding skills and experience that will help make you stand out to future employers. 

Will my gap year make it harder to catch up with university work?

If you do choose to take a year out from academia, you might be wondering if you’ll find it easy to get back into the swing of things with university work. 

When it comes down to it, university still represents a big transition from school or college whether you’ve had a gap year or not – so you won’t be in too dissimilar a position to students who’ve started university straight after finishing their A-levels or other qualifications. 

And while a gap year may not exactly sharpen your academic skills, it could help you develop other qualities that will come in useful when you do go to university. 

“The beauty of a gap year is the freedom to spend your time wisely, which can make the transition more seamless as you learn to think for yourself,” says Josiah Laws, a physiotherapy student at UEA.

“A gap year has the potential to develop and strengthen the skills required for university, all while academic skills are not lost (but perhaps not strengthened either).” 

Will taking a gap year mean it’s harder to make friends at university?

When you’re taking a step into the unknown, such as starting university, it can feel comforting to make that step at the same time as your friends.

So, it’s a common concern for people considering a gap year that they will be falling a year behind their school and college friends - who will all be wise old second years by the time they are starting as freshers.

The truth is that most people start their university course knowing absolutely no-one there, regardless of whether they took a gap year or not. 

So everyone is starting from scratch. And if you’ve got a year’s experience of being out in the world, meeting and talking to people from outside of school and college, you’re going to be better equipped than most to build a new friendship group quickly.

Is a gap year going to make applying to university much more complicated?

If you’ve decided to take a gap year before uni, you have a few application options. 

You could apply for deferred entry. This means you’ll apply at the same time as everyone who is not taking a gap year, but will select the following year for entry on your Ucas application. 

Alternatively, if you don’t decide to take a gap year until after your application has been sent off (or even after you’ve been offered a place) you could contact the university and ask to defer your place until the following year. There’s no guarantee that the university will say yes, though. 

Finally, you could simply hold off on applying until after your gap year. You’ll already know your exam results, and the life experience you’ve gained could even boost your application. 

“Universities are very positive about gap years and encouraging of those students that want to explore this opportunity,” says Alix Delany, associate director of admissions and applicant engagement at UEA. 

“When an application lands at a university for deferred entry, so that the student can take a gap year, it always piques our interest,” Alix says.  
“My tip is that if you are planning on a gap year, give us a brief indication of your reason in the personal statement so that universities are not left guessing.
“Even if your plans are still fluid, an indication will help us. All universities are looking at why you think you will be able to fulfil your full potential at university, and if you can loop your gap year reasons back to this it will be viewed very positively.”

So, is a gap year right for you?

If you're comfortable stepping out of education for a year (and you have a plan for managing the cost) then taking a year out of study can give you time to explore different interests - or even travel the world.

But you don't necessarily need to take a whole year out to achieve those things. University life is filled with opportunities, and every university will have masses of societies where you can discover new passions and keep up with current ones. 

On the travelling side, the study abroad options offered by many universities make it possible to see the world in a structured and supported way as part of your degree.

A gap year can be a memorable experience but, whether you decide to take one or not, starting university can be just the start of your adventures.

Benefits of taking a gap year

  • You'll have the chance to focus on different interests, outside of academic study
  • You might choose to go travelling and explore different places
  • You'll get used to living more independently, which could make starting university less daunting
  • You could strengthen your CV and/or university application
  • You'll get used to meeting people (and making friends) from outside your school/college group

Questions to ask yourself before taking a gap year

  • Do you have a definite plan for what you want to do during your gap year?
  • What's the main reason you want to take a gap year? If it's to pursue non-academic interests, could you find societies at uni that cover these?
  • If overseas travel is what tempts you, might this be available as part of your uni course?
  • How will you fund your gap year plans? Work out your budget so you don't run out of funds halfway through.

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