Filling a gap

Taking a gap year in times of uncertainty

Kevin Keller looks at the value of a Gap Year, which might appeal to even more students if universities are not fully open at the start of 2020 – 21.

Adjusting to new realities

It is safe to say that 2020 is like no year any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. The global COVID-19 pandemic requires many of us to re-think our ideas of what is normal and challenges our ability to adapt. And so it is with the idea of a gap year. The traditional year of travel might not be realistic at the moment, but there are an increasing number of on-line opportunities that will lead to a fulfilling gap year that will add value to a university application.

With the uncertainty surrounding whether or not universities will open for in-person or online learning or how ongoing border restrictions will affect travel, many in our community are considering a gap year when they weren’t before. Going about it in the right way will be important.

Time for gap year?
Each year, a few graduating students choose to take a gap year, which can be a fulfilling experience and one that university admission officers often favour when the time spent outside of a classroom adds value to a student’s experiences personally and academically. There are two routes to taking a possible gap year:

Route one – deferring a place at university
In the first, a student will apply to universities as normal, secure offers and then request a deferral to hold their place for one year. In the past, many of these deferrals were granted easily as long as the student was committed to engaging in further subject or personal exploration during their time away. In today’s climate, these deferrals may be more difficult to secure as universities look to shore up their enrolment and secure their own future as an institution. Too many deferrals can result in not enough spaces available for the following year. While deferring at one university a student is unable to enrol in courses at another. Doing so will result in losing their place and require them to reapply to university.

Route two – delaying an application to university
Another way to take a gap year is to hold off on applying to universities altogether. While this option also includes inherent risks, it is best for students who still don’t have a grasp of what they might like to study or feel that they’re not quite ready or mature enough to leave home. If you defer application, you have to have a good plan in mind for the gap year. It is very important that students use this time strategically, engaging in work experiences, reading within their subject interests, starting personal community-impacting initiatives, engaging in meaningful volunteer work or meeting with leaders in their field of interest. These experiences are highly valued by universities who appreciate students who are better able to connect classroom learning to what is happening in the field.

Adapting to new circumstances
There are now, of course, unique challenges being posed by global social distancing regulations and travel restrictions that will have an impact on how students can spend their year, but with a little creativity and resilience an impactful (and university valued!) gap year can still be realised.
Using personal, peer and online resources, there is a plethora of opportunity to seek non-credit bearing university coursework, building online or app-based platforms for a cause or organization, learning how to write and get published. The options may seem slim, when the traditional gap year is spent travelling, doing volunteer work, but engaging in your field of interest or a public cause that is meaningful through the ways that are available will be highly regarded by any university.

The ultimate value of a gap year
A gap year isn’t for watching Netflix and falling behind on academics. In fact, it is quite the opposite: It is a chance for a student to enhance or even reshape their university application. A student who graduated Patana last year spent the year pursuing work experiences at international organisations and assisting university faculty with high-level research and recently received five offers from top Russell Group universities in the UK. This is just one of many success stories for Patana gap year students.

A gap year isn’t for everyone and most students will prefer to jump right into their university studies, but students are encouraged to do what’s best for them and their families, whether it means a traditional approach to attending university or one that may include a gap year of exploration. Adapting the realities of 2020, delaying for a year and taking advantage of online opportunities for self-development is certainly a real option to consider.


Kevin Keller is Head of Faculty, Careers and Universities at Bangkok Patana School






Images kindly supplied by Kevin