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How do universities view gap years?

The good news is that deferring for a year shouldn’t affect your uni application. It can actually be good to have a gap year, if it's for the right reasons.

There can be a lot to think about if you’re considering a gap year, like when you should apply to university and how your time out will be viewed on your application.

We spoke to university admissions departments and Heloa – a higher education association made up of admissions tutors and university staff – to get their tips for students weighing up a year out.

How do you apply to uni if you're taking a gap year? 

If you're thinking of taking a gap year, you typically have three options:
  • you can apply alongside everyone else, but for a ‘deferred entry’ meaning your application will be considered for the following year.
  • you can apply in the following application cycle, after you receive your results – you'll know which grade requirements you meet for university.
  • you can request deferment after you have received your offer.
If you're planning to apply to a competitive course, you may find that you're in a stronger position if you apply during your gap year – with the qualifications you've achieved – rather than applying for deferred entry with predicted grades.

Make your year out count

The universities you’re interested in applying to will be keen to hear a sentence or two (in your personal statement) about your intended plans and what you hope to gain from your gap-year experience – this could be earning some money, gaining further experience in a related field or travelling the world.

You could take a look on university websites, as they'll often have advice for making an application with deferred entry.
If you are gaining vocational experience during your year away, highlight it during your personal statement as it is a really positive attribute to have during the application process. University Of Bristol

Go to university open days and get a subject tutor's views on gap years – you can also ask if they have any specific policies around deferred entry or if there's anything you should include in your university application.

If you can't make an open day, you could phone the admissions department instead.

Gap years: DO's and DON'Ts

DO: gain some relevant experience 

For certain degree courses, it may even be an essential – or at least a highly desirable – requirement to have a year out to gain relevant experience. Social work, medicine and veterinary medicine are good examples. 

DO: maintain or improve your skills

Whatever you plan to study, it's a good idea to keep up the skills you've acquired in your subject to date, as well as ideally spending time building and developing them.
In order to prove the best preparation for your studies, applicants holding offers for mathematics or languages degrees, who are taking a gap year, are strongly recommended to undertake work that maintains their mathematics or language skills during their year out. University Of Edinburgh

DO: earn some money to fund your study

University is expensive – and your student loan might not stretch that far. Using your gap year as an opportunity to save up some money will be viewed positively by admissions tutors.

Saving up to fund your studies "reflects very well on you as an individual, as you are demonstrating social responsibility," according to the University of Sheffield.

DO: spend time 'discovering yourself'

This could be time spent backpacking around Europe or further afield, getting involved in a local community project or even just learning a new skill or hobby.  
You have probably been in full-time education from the age of five, so why not take a break? There are plenty of adventures to be had while gaining new skills and experiences that can't be gained in the classroom. Nottingham Trent University

DON'T: waste it

While you'll probably want to have fun during your gap year, try to do something that will add value to your time at university as well – it could help your application stand out.

Even if you're not working, you can still build relevant skills. Travelling the world for a year will strengthen traits such as planning and self-reliance, for example. 

A good way to maximise your gap year is to plan your time effectively. Doing research in advance will help you to avoid any unexpected pitfalls, such as finding out you can't afford travelling or not getting a work experience application in on time. 

So, is it good to take a gap year then? 

Most universities see the advantages of deferred entry and welcome the maturity, motivation and experience that an applicant who has taken a gap year can bring to their degree. 

Even though gap years are generally welcomed by universities, don't let that influence whether or not you take one – do what feels like the right move for you.

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