What is a gap year?
A gap year, sometimes known as a ‘year out’ is typically a year long break taken between completion of Year 13 (Upper Sixth) at school and the start of college/university.
In the United Kingdom the practice of taking a gap year became popular in the 1970s. The year out was seen as an opportunity to gain life experience through travel and volunteering. The number of students opting to take a gap year reached its peek in 2008 (21,020) but dropped hugely in 2011 (7,320), the number declining would appear to be a direct response to the increased tuition fees.
Over recent years gap years have yet again increased in popularity and remain a popular choice. That being said, the increasing costs of university studies have led to greater consideration of whether a gap year is ‘worth it’. There have also been reports that shorter gap year style experiences are gaining momentum; and, that the gap year is becoming more appealing for students outside the UK.
At Keystone we talk to lots of parents who encourage gap years, possibly having enjoyed one themselves; the time away from studies can provide a brilliant opportunity to broaden horizons, gain work experience, travel, and importantly, experience independence in advance of starting a degree.
It is important to emphasise that a gap year can provide the opportunity to have a productive, useful year, which then adds value to your CV (and Personal Statement), but the other side of the coin is that an unstructured year will not add much value to your future and may only make it harder to return to education.
What do people do on their gap year?
- Paid work! – university is expensive, and many want to start their experience with some money in the bank. A gap year can be used to earn and save money towards higher education costs.
- Volunteering and Travel – many who opt for a gap year use the opportunity to take a break from studying and travel the world, often volunteering along their way.
- Work placements / Work Experience – for those who have a particular career path in mind, a gap year offers a brilliant time to get some experience in before you start university. Lots of companies offer work placements and internships – some lasting a few weeks, others a full year. Depending on the type of contract a salary might even be on offer.
How do universities view gap years?
A question we get asked a fair bit centres around the question of whether taking a gap year will in any way reduce an applicant’s chance of achieving a place at a top UK university.
In our experience some schools do suggest that an applicant might be at a disadvantage applying with deferred entry as this means that the expectation is for tutors to allocate a place without seeing the full quota of applicants. With that in mind, you would be expected to be an extremely strong candidate to stand a chance.
Our advice would always be to communicate directly with the universities that the applicant is targeting to check their stance on gap years. By making the effort to speak with a university, and in Oxbridge’s case, specific colleges, you will be able to ask them directly what their policy is in terms of gap years. This may well vary from department to department, so make sure they are completely clear on your intentions.
What are the options for applying to university with a gap year?
If you do decide to take a gap year, then you will have two opportunities to make your university application. You can apply in your final school year, and again on your gap year, but re-applying in your gap year does mean letting go of your first set of offers.
What are the options?
Option 1: Apply with deferred entry (UCAS)
- To do this you stick with the same deadlines as everyone else in your school year, and simply click the ‘deferred entry box’ on your application
- 15th October Oxbridge
- 15th January Non-Oxbridge
A request for deferred entry is simply asking the admissions departments at universities to save you a place without knowing the quality of the other applicants. For that reason, schools do sometimes suggest it is a higher risk strategy. That being said, if you aren’t successful you can always try again by following Option 2 (below).
Option 2: Apply in your gap year
The great thing about Option 2 is that you have the option of applying to universities with your final A level grades, therefore there is no need to be given a Conditional Offer. As with any university application, it would be worth applying for a range of universities so that you don’t end up with no offers (and the subsequent risk of two gap years to enable a further application).
Option 3: Defer after submitting your applications/ you get results / your place is confirmed
If you decide that you might like to take a gap year once you have already submitted your application / received offers / a place, then you should contact the university directly. Some universities may not accept a request for deferral, and you will be asked to give your reasons for making this move. Do note that once you have deferred you will not be able to switch back!
Should I Take a Gap Year? 3 Top Tips
- Research your university and course – make sure a gap year is a feasible option before you commit yourself to this route
- Speak to your school advisors – your school are a great source of advice and information. Make sure you take advantage of what they have to say!
- Plan – think about what you might do on the gap year. There is little point in taking this amount of time out if you do not use it (or at least some of it) constructively. If you make a good and interesting plan, then you’ll be able to express to universities exactly why you have made this decision
- Harvard Recommends a Gap Year - article link
- How to Plan a Gap Year in a Socially Distanced World – Keystone Webinar Recording
- The Uni Guide – How do Universities View Gap Years? link
- Top Universities – Coronavirus: How to Take a Gap Year link
- UCAS – Gap Years: Ideas and Things to Think About link
Volunteering and Travel Companies
- Africa & Asia Venture (AV) website
- GOV.UK volunteer information
- NCVO volunteer website
- Raleigh International website
- WWOOF website
- Year Out Group website
Work Experience and Internships
- Accenture Apprenticeship and School Leavers Programmes link
- Army Internship link
- Arup Internship Programme link
- Bank of England Apprenticeship link
- Deloitte Gap Year Placement link
- KPMG Gap Programme link
- Procter and Gamble Internship Programme link
- Work in start-up link
If you have any questions regarding university applications and gap years our consultancy team are always happy to set up an initial call to discuss options.