Gap year advice: when you should take one

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14th Aug 2014
Written by: Will Jones

Backpackers advise on whether to take a gap year before or after uni

With A-level results day upon us and clearing in full swing, hundreds of thousands of students across the country are facing the biggest question of their lives to date – essentially, WTF now?

Uni? Job? Travelling? Hide under bed until ready to face people again?

Much of the media today is reporting a marked decrease in students achieving A-D grades, which if true means taking an unexpected gap year could become a very real option for more young people than ever before.

There is no right or wrong answer as to whether to take a gap year before or after uni or starting your career, but there are plenty of opinions, so we put the question out there on our social platforms and message boards to see how the backpacking community responded.

One of the more popular comments on Facebook came from Jake, who said:

I wish I’d done a round-the-world trip before getting into work, buying a house etc. Although I travel a fair amount, it’s not the same as being able to spend weeks or months really exploring somewhere. If I could go back 10 years, I’d definitely travel first.

Lucy backed this up, though made the important point that much depends on the individual, and made the even more important point that going to uni doesn’t stop you from travelling:

It depends on your mindset. Personally I couldn’t stand the idea of more education so travelling first was best for me, but for some people getting all their qualifications first is better. It depends on if you have plans for the future. If you’re not sure which course to do then just travel first so you can take a step back and get a better idea of what you want. You can also travel during and after uni – I did!

The ways in which travelling can prepare you for the so-called ‘real world’ is always a hot topic of debate among backpackers, and Charlotte neatly summed up her thoughts on the matter:

Travel educates you more than any old university course ever will!

Beccy is in the other camp; for her, taking a gap year after uni worked better:

I’m going travelling on Monday after graduating uni and I’m so glad I’ve done it this way round. It can take a long time to get back into studying – this way I don’t have to worry so much about that.

Laura agreed:

Definitely after university! I’m about to go travelling having graduated and I feel a lot more confident in myself than I ever would have done three years ago.

Hannah, writing on our message boards, made a similar point about confidence coming with age:

For me personally, I don’t know if I’d have managed travelling before uni. I was quite shy when I went to uni and although, to some extents, I still was when I left (it was the travelling that opened me up) I don’t think I could have handled it beforehand. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, I think every individual is different. I think that the money factor will be a major factor for most people deciding when they can take time to travel.

Zoe is very much of the opinion uni should come first:

University then travel… Get all your learning out the way while it’s fresh in your brain. Then use your university experiences and qualifications to help you in your trip around the world. There are too many teens just leaving school and using travelling as a holiday piss up. Go to uni, test your freedom and be silly. Then take the world at your own pace and you’ll see it with different eyes.

And Jordan agrees:

I don’t know about anyone else but if I had not gone straight to uni then I doubt I would have gone at all. I knew I wanted to go travelling but decided it was best to get my degree first. It just gives you that foundation for later in life.

Helen makes a really good point that going to uni doesn’t have to completely halt travel:

Now that I’ve finished uni I feel like I have more life skills and maturity to have a more successful gap year than when I was 18. But then I did spend three years feeling incredibly envious of anyone who had taken a pre uni gap year! As a compromise I did a four week trip across the USA before I went to uni and that taught me so many skills and gave me some great stories for Freshers Week!

Ultimately, the decision of whether to travel before or after uni will depend on individual circumstances and personalities, as articulated by Suzie:

Depends on the individual. If mature enough after college then go for it. Not one rule for all, but definitely needs to be done!

And Samantha makes the point that the best time to travel is when you’re still young, whether you’re going to uni or not:

Travel while you’re young and have no commitments. it becomes harder to do once you’re older and have more responsibilities. like wives, husbands, kids and mortgages… While I still travel a good amount, I would love to just disappear for a year…

More information

Whatever you decide to do, the important thing to remember is that you have options, no matter how good or bad your results are.

We have heaps of great advice on clearing, including answers to common questions, going on an unplanned gap year and what to do if you get disappointing grades.


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