For many students, finishing school with A-levels means having reached a major milestone in their lives and they, understandably, want to relax and allow the stresses of academic study fall away.
For those, the temptation to take a gap year before embarking on a university programme is strong. Gap years have become fashionable, to take a year out and go and have an adventure or get some work experience. There are, however, good reasons not to delay taking up higher education.
While some students taking a gap year work hard and manage to save up money to put towards the costs of higher education, many more find the opposite it true. Instead of working through the year they reward themselves for past hard work with a year off, either undertaking voluntary programmes or simply taking extended travelling holidays.
While both these things are mentally enriching and can be character-building and give you practice at staying in student accommodation, they do not help towards the end objective of getting a degree. Volunteer programmes can be expensive and travelling is notoriously costly. The student who takes this route is likely to find him or herself in restricted financial straits at the end of the gap year.
Study skills reasons
When you go straight from school to university your study skills are sharp and you are well practised in the rigours of research, essay writing and the discipline needed to spend hours reading and learning. This is a skill that is very quickly lost when you allow yourself time away from it.
Motivation can suffer and with it your chances of doing well on the degree programme. A structured study programme requires concerted and sustained effort over relatively long periods of time and, like the marathon runner who slacks off during training, taking a gap year can leave you with flabby study muscles, making it doubly hard to slot in with the demands when you return.
Close school friends can quickly move away when they go to university and you do not. They are used to staying in student accommodation, living and studying with their peers. You will find they have a different outlook to yours and their topics of conversation are outside of your experience.
Instead of being on a level with them, able to communicate and share daily experiences, your life and theirs suddenly has little connection. Many gap year students find it difficult to maintain close friendships with school mates after taking a gap year.
In career terms, a year can be a long time. By taking a gap year you are putting yourself one year behind your friends who opt to move straight into university life. This can have far reaching consequences, as friends will graduate one year ahead of your and have that extra year to establish their position on the career ladder. A one year delay is the minimum you can expect. If you need to take a lighter programme of classes to build up your study skills again, you could be looking at even longer.
Gap years are popular and work well for many students. Choosing to take one should be an informed decision so that you can be sure it will work to your advantage.