Taking a gap year before university is becoming an increasingly popular option for students. There are plenty of benefits, whether you want to take a break from education, or gain useful work experience for your future studies or career. There are now lots of gap year guides available, and indeed whole companies that will plan and facilitate gap year activities. However, something that is rarely talked about is the option of taking a gap year during university, rather than before or after. Is this a possibility for students? How does it work?
The short answer is yes, you can take a gap year during university. However, it works a little differently to what we normally think of as a gap year. There normally needs to be a specific reason why you are taking time off from your studies, for example, physical or mental health struggles. The year away needs to be approved by your university, and you should then be able to restart the course where you left off, one year later.
This article contains all you need to know about the possibility of taking a gap year during university, including exactly how to go about it, important things to be aware of, and returning to study. Keep reading for more!
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Can you take a year out of university in the UK?
As mentioned, yes, it is possible to take a year out of university. This can be for a range of reasons – but they may be slightly different reasons to why you would take a gap year before university.
Taking a gap year out during your course is unlikely to be because you want to travel the world or get a variety of work experience to make sure the degree course you enter is really the right one for you. These tend to be reasons people take a gap year before university.
If these are the reasons you want to take a break during your studies, you will likely have to use the summer holidays for a ‘mini gap year’ rather than stop your studies for a while. This is because your university is unlikely to see these as suitable reasons to pause your course.
Instead, a year away from university is typically approved due to personal reasons, like health or finance. Students will have to discuss this with their university and agree on a plan of action.
This plan might not necessarily be a year out. There may be services in the university to help the student get the support they need, while continuing their studies. However, in other situations, it may be that the best choice for the student is to take some time off from university study.
This agreement with a university to stop studying for a period of time is officially called a leave of absence. You can read more about this on this page from the University of Sheffield’s website.
It’s also worth being aware that some courses have a ‘year out’ of university in the form of a placement year, or year abroad. This is different to a leave of absence, because the year is still technically part of your degree. If you’re looking for more information on this, have a look at this article about work placements from Prospects.
Why would you take a gap year during university?
Students normally take a year out of university for personal reasons that significantly affect their ability to continue with university studies.
This could, for instance, be to do with personal health difficulties. University can be hard to adjust to, and students often struggle to look after their mental health. It might be that the best decision is to take some time off university, to get the support you need without the additional pressure of university work.
This could also include a new physical health diagnosis or disability that makes university difficult. Possibly a year off would mean you can get the treatment you need and rejoin education when you have had time to rest and recover.
Personal family circumstances may also affect a student’s university studies. This can include, for example, bereavement, or new care responsibilities.
Essentially, personal circumstances that have a considerable effect on your studies will be grounds for you to ask the university for a leave of absence. In other situations – while it is still recommended to talk to your university and see what they can help you with – you are more likely to need to make use of holiday time, or drop out completely, to pursue your alternate plans.
How do you go about taking a gap year during university?
If you are considering taking a year off during university, the very first thing to do is to talk to welfare staff at your university. They will be able to guide you through the process, as well as providing support and talking through your options with you.
Generally, there will be one or two forms to fill in to explain to the university why you are requesting a leave of absence. These can usually be found on university websites, for instance, the University of Sunderland has all the information and forms to do with a leave of absence on this page of their website.
The forms are the main part of the process – which is much simpler than you may anticipate! Of course, there is still lots to think about in terms of how long you will need away, what your plans are during that time and more – but all that is really needed to set the wheels in motion of your gap year is good communication with your university.
What do you need to know before taking a year out of university?
Taking a year out of university is a big decision, so it’s important to think everything through first, and talk about your options with friends, family and university tutors.
Weigh up the pros and cons, which will be different for each individual. A gap year may be the perfect choice to make sure you aren’t being overwhelmed by trying to juggle both personal difficulties and university study at the same time.
Make sure to consider the possible disadvantages, though. It can be hard to readjust to full-time study after a full year away, and you will likely have to get used to a new group of peers.
There are also logistical concerns to think about. International students will need to be aware of implications to their student visa if they are on a leave of absence, as they are technically not students during that period.
Additionally, you need to think about adjusting your student finance payments if you are stopping study. You should not be paying full tuition fees, nor receiving a maintenance loan, while you are not a student. If you take a leave of absence partway through the year, you will still need to pay a reduced amount of tuition fees.
More information on both these considerations can be found on this page from the University of Birmingham.
Do you have to drop out of your course to take a gap year during university?
If you have a good reason for needing time away from your studies, you should not have to drop out. We’ve already discussed the reasons you may take a year out, and all of these should be agreed with your university, who will then let you rejoin the course after a set period of time.
That being said, your reason for leaving may not be approved by the university. This could be the case if, for example, you want time off to pursue a hobby or business. In this situation, you will likely need to choose between continuing your course or dropping out to take a different path.
Of course, you can always reapply to university later. Have a look at this guide from ApplyToUni for a detailed guide on how this would work.
How do you return to university after a gap year?
Returning to study is a similar process to taking a leave of absence. Hopefully, you had already agreed a plan with your university about how long you would be away, and when you expected to rejoin. There will just be some administration forms to fill in, and make sure to stay in contact with your university in the weeks leading to return to check if there’s anything else they want from you.
There will be other things involved in restarting university, such as reapplying for student finance and making sure you have accommodation sorted. However, these are concerns that every student needs to deal with!
In terms of the leave of absence, there is nothing to particularly deal with besides the forms, which should be easily available on university websites.
You can check out this article from the University of York for advice on adjusting to university. You will have already gone through this the first time you started – but the majority of the advice is just as true the second time around!
If you would like to read more on withdrawing from university, whether that’s temporarily for a gap year or on a permanent basis, check out this article from Think Student.