Many students worry that universities don't look favourably upon gap years. Whilst this may have been true some time ago, these days, breaks from education are actually welcomed by institutions if approached in the right way.
They think it makes you more prepared for uni life
A common concern about taking a year out is being older than everyone else when you return to study. Actually however, when you get there, you will realise that everyone is all sorts of ages. One year won't make a difference in terms of how you get on with everyone. It will only have a positive effect. You will be more confident making friends and you'll notice (after watching that one guy eat toast for dinner every night) that you are better at looking after yourself. Uni is hard enough without the added pressure of learning to cook/clean/budget for yourself for the first time as well.
Richard Oliver (Chairman and Chief Executive of the Year Out Group) says that "students [that] take a year out before university, arrive refreshed, focused and, if they have made full use of their time out, they will be better able to make the transition from dependence to independence. Our research suggests girls are more likely to pursue a structured gap year than boys, and are arriving at university better prepared to tackle more challenges and to achieve their full potential."
They just want to see that you have a plan
It's about showing that you will be making time out meaningful as opposed to wasted. Universities want to know that you won't be spending the (whole) time watching TV, but that you plan to do something that will make you an asset to their community.
If you plan to go somewhere and learn another language, or pick up fundraising skills, let them know this in your personal statement.
Relate it to your field
It is rumoured that some disciplines, such as maths and the sciences, occasionally frown upon gap years. Something about those rigorously-exercised brains turning to mush if left unstimulated. This is possibly another outdated mode of thinking, however the best thing to do is research the gap year policies of your chosen institutions.
For example Dr Jennien Geddes , associate Dean for Admissions at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry believes it is a good idea, even necessary, as it is 'the last chance to get a life for a year before a very hard slog - and an opportunity to develop skills that will enhance their futures.'
Dr Stephen Gilmour from Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary agrees, saying that 'taking a gap year doesn't put students at a disadvantage'. He goes on to note, quite importantly, that 'in fact, they tend to be more focused.'
If you are worried about your chosen institution, perhaps mention that you intend to read and study privately whilst you are away. Another simple way to get around this would be to choose a volunteering project that relates to the course you're applying for. If you want to go into medicine for example, it is clear that volunteering at a hospital in Tanzania would keep your brain in the right zone and, as an added bonus, prepare you for the often harsh realities you will face in such a field.
So the long and short of it is, as long as you know what your chosen institution wants and can justify your adventure in your personal statement, then you don't need to worry about what universities will think. Nowadays, they are on your side, so make the most of it!
Author Sophie Aggatt works is an Online Journalism Intern at Frontier. Frontier, an international, nonprofit volunteering NGO with over 300 dedicated conservation, community development and adventure projects worldwide. To find see more from projects please visit Frontier's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, or see photos shared by volunteers in the field by searching #frontiervolunteer on Instagram.