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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.

We asked HELOA, the Higher Education Liaision Officers' Association – made up of admissions tutors and university staff – to share their tips for anyone making their gap year plans or looking into gap-year programs who are feeling unsure how universities will view their time out or how to apply if you have a gap year.

For more application advice from admissions experts, see our sister site The Student Room's video below. 

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

If you're thinking of taking a gap year, you broadly have three options:
  • you can either apply alongside everyone else, but for a ‘deferred entry’ meaning you'll be considered for an offer for the following year.
  • you can apply in the following application cycle, once you have received your results and have a better idea of what you have achieved, and what course you’re thinking of applying to.
  • 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

However you choose to approach it, 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.

Universities will often have their own pointers on applications for deferred entry in their prospectuses or on their websites, so be sure to take a look.
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 speak to subject tutors or phone up the admissions departments to get their views on gap years and to find out whether they have any specific policies around deferred entry. It's also worth asking if there's anything in particular you should include in your university application.

Education-wise, you'll be a year behind your school or college classmates, so if you're set on a gap year, make sure you spend your time out wisely. 

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 – something even universities themselves will admit, and your tuition fees won't cover everything. Using your gap year as an opportunity to save up some money will only 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

However you decide to spend your gap year, make sure that it's a constructive use of your time. Don't just spend the year having a good time and not doing anything that will add value to your time at university – it won't do you, or your application, any favours. 

Even if you're not working, you can still build relevant skills. No-one travels the world for a year without strengthening traits such as planning and self-reliance, for example. 

The best way to avoid wasting your gap year is to ensure that you plan out your time effectively. Do your research well in advance to avoid any unexpected pitfalls, such as costs for travelling or volunteering that you can't afford to meet, 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 and motivation, as well as the additional experience, that an applicant who has taken a gap year can bring to their degree. 

However, remember, when it comes down to choosing whether to take or not take a gap year, the final decision is ultimately in your hands. Do what you feel is right for you.

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