Starting University after a Gap Year

This article has been originally written by Viola who runs her own blog – A Piece Of Viola. Follow Viola on Twitter and Instagram.

Over the course of many conversations with sixth form students, I realised that one of the things deterring them from taking a Gap Year was starting university a year late. For a lot of the people I spoke to, many were adamant that they were going to start the year with peers of their own age. And this really surprised me.

If you’ve read my previous posts about my own Gap Year (yes, I know I bang on about it quite a bit), you’ll know that I was going to take one no matter what. I didn’t even think about the fact that I would be a whole year older. I didn’t even think about how much of a struggle it could be going back to education after taking a year out. And neither should you.

“Don’t universities dislike people who take gap years?”

Not true. In my experience, provided that you have some kind of plan and you’re not going to waste a year of your life, universities do not mind if you take a gap year. I know that there are some kind of restrictions for certain courses (Beginners Russian at Oxford, for example, won’t allow you to take one), so make sure you check beforehand.

Applying pre-gap year

If you’ve read my UCAS Story, or watched my UCAS Experience video, you’ll know that I applied to university in Year 13. I applied to all five universities, including Oxford, for deferred entry. This means that I’m asking for a place for the following academic year. I applied in October 2014, asking for 2016 entry.

Universities all knew I intended on taking a gap year and I added a small paragraph at the end of my personal statement. This stated the plans I had and what I would be doing in that year. It was brought up in my Oxford interview, but only very briefly. As long as you make your plans clear in your UCAS application, you should have no problems.

Applying in your gap year

If you apply in your gap year, things are slightly easier. You should already have your A level (or equivalent) results and so once you receive an offer, it’s unconditional. You either accept or reject the place straightaway: you’re not waiting on results. Doing it this way also means that you can continue doing whatever you’re doing without being anxious or nervous for August.

“I don’t want to be that ‘gap yah’ person.”

You don’t have to be! I found that a surprising number of people in my year had, in fact, taken gap years. This made me feel relieved, if anything, as I knew I wasn’t the only one. You choose how much you talk about your gap yah and only you can determine whether people will perceive you as ‘that person’. Don’t keep talking about what you got up to in Africa or South-East Asia and you’ll be fine.

“But I’ll forget everything I’ve learnt!”

This is simultaneously true and untrue. It all comes down to what exactly you are personally doing in your gap year. Some will continue studies (whether re-taking or doing an extra A level), while others will just be working for a solid year. If you’re not continuing with your studies in some way, I’d recommend keeping your brain stimulated by learning something new. This could be trying a new language or studying a free open university course on edX, Coursera or FutureLearn.

My experience

In my personal experience, I did forget a great deal. I was actually stupid enough to throw out my entire Classical Civilisation folder after A level. Yes, I know: who the hell would do something that stupid?! I have no idea what I was thinking. I guess I just wanted a “fresh start” at university, and thought that the knowledge I had learnt at A level wouldn’t be useful in my first year. While the content wasn’t the same, I highly regret not having any material from school to help me, or to act as an example. Stupid Viola. Nevertheless, my ‘academic’ brain hadn’t completely turned to mush as I studied Mandarin intensively for two months. I was also teaching English for a further two, so I was keeping my brain intellectually stimulated.

“I won’t get along with others in my year at university. They will all be the year below and so immature.”

Again, this is true and untrue. When you start university, you will come across such a wide range of people. There will be people who’ve come across the Atlantic, people who’re a lot older than you, and people who might even be doing a second degree. You just never know! While the majority will undoubtedly be eighteen, you will find such a huge mix of people it won’t be difficult making friends. You will always find people just like you and there will definitely be people you will get along with.

My experience

Before I started at Oxford, this is something that I was really worried about. I would consider myself to be fairly mature for my age anyway, and so I really didn’t want to find a bunch of immature school-kids when I started university. Instead, I was surprised to hear just how many people had taken gap years (all for various reasons). In my year of roughly 130 students, I’d say between 1/4-1/3 took a year out. Although at times I did almost feel as though I’d taken a step back in time, and felt as though I was back at school, I got along so well with people in my year. I’m friends with people my own age, people in the years above and people a year younger. It doesn’t matter, really.

I hope I’ve managed to address some queries you might have about starting university after a gap year. And I hope I’ve managed to sway your view on the whole thing (if you’re hesitating about taking a year out, just do it). In my experience, everything has turned out for the best and taking a gap year was one of the best things I’ve ever done.


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