Should you take a Gap year after A Levels?
This has been quite an unusual year, and continues to be so. Exams were cancelled and it’s unclear whether they will go ahead next summer, and our expectations of universities have also changed. So it’s understandable if you are uncertain about whether you want to go to university or to take a gap year next year. We’ve created a list of ten questions to help you with your decision making.
Do you have an idea of what you want to do in the next five years with your life?
It’s not a problem if the answer to this question is ‘no’. It’s also not a question about what you want to do for the rest of your life, so just focus on what would be best for you now. If taking a gap year gives you more time to figure out what you want to do then it might be a good choice, but remember that a lot of things that you would normally have done during your gap year (like travelling) may be restricted due to Covid 19, so there will be additional planning involved.
What will you do during your gap year?
A gap year isn’t an extended holiday. If you don’t do anything throughout your gap year, you will appear less desirable to universities and you may also feel less motivated to get back into full-time education.
With travel restricted for the foreseeable future, you should make sure that you have very clear objectives and plans about what you would like to do.
There are lots of free online learning courses offered by top universities, so it could be a good opportunity to explore some of those.
How are you planning to pay for your education?
Most students will graduate will large amounts of debt. Thinking about your options and making a budget, could ensure that it you do decide to go to university, you make a success of it and minimise the risk.
If you use your gap year effectively, you can develop practical skills, build contacts and make money. These things won’t just make you a more desirable university candidate, but will allow you to save money, and reduce or eliminate your graduate debt.
You will have to carefully plan your gap year in order for it to be effective, otherwise you may end up financially worse-off.
How much real-world experience do you have?
If you decide to go to university, it is very important that you find something that gives you options. Lots of people find a gap year is a good time to think about what you’ll enjoy whilst also learning about the ‘real world’ before coming to an informed decision.
You could take on an internship or volunteer in the area of study that you are interested in. That could confirm your choice or show you that you should focus elsewhere. It’s worth thinking about trying to find some paid work. Or, given the extraordinary circumstances we currently face, you could look at volunteering to help those affected by the pandemic.
Just make sure you are following Government guidance to ensure that you remain safe whilst volunteering, working or travelling.
Do you need to improve your results?
The controversy surrounding this year’s exam results and the moderation process have been described by many as unfair, as many students were downgraded by a computer algorithm. If you are in a situation where you can no longer access your desired university, you could either take your exams this autumn or you could take a one-year A level course to help you get the grades you deserve.
Should you do a deferred entry or a post-results UCAS application?
Once you have decided that you definitely want to go on a gap year, you can either apply to universities before finishing you A levels and then defer a year, or you can wait and apply after receiving your results.
The former has several practical benefits, such as having UCAS support and easy access to your referees whilst applying, and it means that you know that you will be going back to study after a year, and you can focus on making the most of your gap year. However, deferred places are always limited and competitive and it means that you won’t be in a position to change your mind.
If you wait to apply, you’ll know your results, which removes a lot of the uncertainty of the process. However, you will need to manage the applications, correspondence and possible interviews during your gap year, so you’ll need to consider how you would do this.
It might be worth having a look at how universities are supporting students during the pandemic as this might also play a role in your decision.
How does your ideal university view gap years?
Make sure you do your research in advance, as all universities and programmes will have their own views and requirements. Lot’s of universities might ask to see a proposed plan, and might ask you to demonstrate that you will maintain academic engagement during a gap year. So they might want to see evidence of an internship, work placement or simply a structured reading plan.
Some admissions tutors view gap years as a potentially positive experience and that they show that candidates have made a conscious decision to return to education.
Other views vary. Within Oxbridge, certain colleges view gap years as good preparation for uni, whilst others are open to the study break, but will require you to complete specific academic work during it.
How competitive is your application?
Due to concerns over Covid-19, it has been widely reported that many universities will struggle to recruit international students. Many have argued that this will result in Russell group universities not being able to fill popular courses and then being forced to accept lower entry grades.
Given that, if you are a borderline student who might benefit from a less stringent entry criteria, this could be the perfect time to get into university. It might not be worth taking a gap year, simply because the student experience will be different.
What do you want from university?
Undoubtedly, university in 2020/2021 will be unlike any other year, and may continue to be so for some time. If you were looking forward to going to university for the social experience, or were keen to attend face-to-face lectures, it might be worth taking a gap year, in the hope that things will go back to normal the following year.
However, we don’t know what the future holds, and whether things will indeed ‘return to normal’. So if that is your only reason for waiting, it might be worth just going, as often the social aspect is a much smaller part of the student experience, but ultimately it’s up to you.
Whether or not you take a gap year is a very personal decision. There are several advantages to taking one, but only if it is well-planned and you use the time effectively. It’s worth contacting the university you wish to attend before you make a decision, to find out what impact a gap year could have on your admission.
Article referenced: https://www.cife.org.uk/article/gap-year-after-a-level/