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To Gap or not to Gap
Gap Years in general
Member Name: Jersey-Soph
Gap Years in general
Date: 11/09/03, updated on 11/09/03 (769 review reads)
Advantages: Have the time of your life, Useful for university/job hunting, Something for everyone
Disadvantages: None that warrant not doing one
The advantages of a gap year are numerous. A perfect time in ones life to experience freedom from studying and the grind of daily routine, see the world, experience the magnitude of cultures that exist around the globe, help others less fortunate than ourselves, and take time to decide which direction you want your life to follow.
Many people however are cautious about taking a year out between school and university because they feel that universities or future employers may not look favourably upon a break from study and that it may show a lack of dedication to ones subject.
My experience shows that in fact the opposite of this is true. Admissions tutors of further education institutions actively encourage gap years, and travel, placements overseas and voluntary work, make you stand out from the crowd of other hopefuls. If an employer has to decide between two people of equal academic standards, a structured gap year will often be a deciding factor as it can mean broad-mindedness, maturity, and confidence beyond that which a typical student can offer.
I originally, in Year 13, applied to universities to study psychology. It was more a case of knowing that I wanted to get a degree, but having no desire to do any particular subject, so psychology seemed like an interesting, general course that I could enjoy. One of my six university choices was Durham, which was where I wanted to go more than anywhere else, due to its high academic reputation, college system, being a small, cathedral town, and friendly atmosphere. I was, however, rejected.
I had been considering deferring entry and taking a structured gap year, but left my options open by not stating this on my UCAS form. However, once rejected from Durham, and also my second choice of Nottingham, my mind was made up that I should not just follow the crowd and go to university for the sake of it, taking a course I was not even sure I wanted to study. I did however accept
a place at Lancaster University for the year following my gap year, so that I would not be left without a university place at all, knowing it was possible to change the subject I wanted to study at that institution.
I had an amazing gap year teaching English in Slovakia and backpacking around Eastern Europe, the United States and Ireland, and also working at the Jersey Tourism office to fund my travels. Whilst on my gap placement I realised that I did not want to go to Lancaster University and did not actually want to study psychology. I had applied in upper sixth in such a rush with UCAS deadlines looming, and had not had time to consider all the courses and options that were available to me. I returned from travelling in the April of my gap year, the UCAS deadline for applications having passed four months earlier. It is still possible to apply, but one theoretically stands a far lesser chance of acceptance, because universities are under no obligation to even consider your application. I had decided I would be far more suited to a Law degree, and so to reapply had to reject my place at Lancaster. This was an anxious time as I realised I could be left with no university place at all if everywhere refused me, however with AAB at A-level, I hoped at least one institution would offer me a place. I applied to six good universities with well-respected Law departments, and was delighted to get unconditional offers from five. I was most shocked by my acceptance at Durham University, who had rejected me the previous year. I had applied to the same college (Trevelyan) which is one of the most popular colleges at the University, and had been accepted onto a course which had higher entry requirements than psychology (Law being AAB, Psychology being BBB) and also with places being far more fiercely sought after. In 1998 the Law department received 1383 applications and made 323 offers, whereas the Psychology department only received 579 applications for
The difference between my two applications in the two years was my gap year. I had lived and worked in a deprived area of a foreign country and been faced with numerous challenges and experiences which my life as a sixth former could not have given me. I also had 'actual' A-level grades as opposed to just predictions, which shows admissions tutor exactly what standard I was, and they therefore felt more comfortable giving offers.
The importance of a gap year, instead of it being a hindrance and meaning you graduate a year later, is also shown by my experience in the world of internships and vacation placements with Law firms. Law is a extraordinarily competitive career and placements with international city firms are immensely over subscribed and students are advised to apply for at least 20, in the hope of maybe having one offer. First year degree results are all important in applications for these summer placements, and mine were nothing to write home about with a mid 2:2 average. I applied to 18 firms and was offered seven interviews and four placements. This was quite a feat of achievement because some friends doing the same course with similar, or better marks than myself had little or no response, or were only offered one placement. The only marked difference between us that I am aware of, was that I had taken a year out before university, done something character building, showing that I was independent, resourceful, ambitious and had an international focus.
When it came to accepting vacation placements, I decided that I did not actually want to spend my summer sitting in law offices in London, and would have a far more productive and amazing experience if I participated in a charity project building an orphanage in Zambia. I am delighted I made this choice, and have since decided that a career in the legal profession is not for me, but I have been able to do this in the knowledge that if I wanted t
o go ahead and be a solicitor, I would find many more doors open for me, and my route to a good job made much easier, because of my gap year and projects abroad that I have since completed.
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