Picture this: it’s your first day at university. Everyone’s introducing themselves and then a guy comes bounding up to you in elephant print harem pants and a neon Thai Full Moon party vest, a wrist heavy with festival bracelets and a tattoo of ‘wanderlust’ on his forearm. “I took a gap yah,” he says.
This gap year stereotype has now become a taboo. I’m not saying it’s the main reason people don’t take gap years, but it’s one of them. I took one myself and, to avoid being pigeonholed, I referred to it as a ‘year out’. But there are many other concerns surrounding gap years. Will I be stuck at home whilst my home friends have fun in first year? Will I be noticeably older than my new university friends? Can I even afford a gap year? All these thoughts buzzed around my head this time four years ago whilst I was doing my own UCAS application, and there is a solution to all of them.
Firstly, not all of your home friends will disappear off to university after school. Out of my group of six, three stayed in my hometown. As for the friends who did start university, taking a gap year meant I could visit them throughout the year and prepare myself for my own university life. I got a taste of being a student at Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, and Nottingham, yet I could escape back home on Sunday when the partying ended and the essay writing began again. My friendship group also expanded to include my home friends’ new university friends, many of whom I’m still close with now.
On the issue of being noticeably older than your new university friends: I was a baby faced 19 year old even after my gap year and I’m still a baby faced 22 year old now. Also, unlike secondary school, your year at university will have an eclectic range of ages. There’ll be many gap year students, mature students, Scottish students who start university at 17, people repeating the year for the first, second, or even third time. In my second year, I lived with a thirty year old who had a child, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying university life like the rest of us. Age really is but a number, and it’s just one of the many things that makes university so interesting.
With the stereotype of a gap year student comes the stereotype of a gap year itself. ‘Gap year’ has become synonymous with ‘minimum of six months travelling around the world’, which naturally seems financially improbable when university fees and cost of living are already so high.
Of course, if you can afford to travel that’s great, because travelling will broaden your mind, increase your confidence, and prepare you for any new and scary situations university throws at you. If you can’t afford to travel, or you don’t want to, then there are many other options that will give you the same skills. You could volunteer, learn a new language, do an internship, practice painting, writing, acting, or cooking; you could tutor, babysit, work in a shop, or become a professional dog walker. And if you do want to travel or live abroad on a budget, there are plenty of schemes such as Workaway where you can work for food and board in the country of your choice. The endless possibilities, and the time to pursue them, are what makes a gap year so thrilling.
If you’re worried that it’s too late to take a gap year because you’ve already started your UCAS application– I decided on results day that I wasn’t confident enough to leave home in less than a month, so I declined my offer and reapplied. If you want to give both yourself and your parents a lot less stress, many universities will defer your offer, so you can start your gap year confident in the knowledge that you’ve got a secure place at university for the following year. You may be eager to leave home or to start university, which means a gap year may not be for you, but if you’d love a break from academia to develop your own interests then start planning a year you will never forget.
By Florianne H.
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