Uni or gap year?

Uni or a Gap Year? Should you do both? First year student Phoebe shares her experiences...

Phoebe Hughes is a first year History and Heritage student who travelled and worked for two years before starting her course at Bath Spa. Here's her story...

It’s coming up to nearly three years since I completed my A-levels, when the realities of life hit me in the face. It was scary and exciting all at once. With so many choices being presented to me, it became overwhelming and stressful.

I remember the moment I realised that everything had changed. My younger sister was getting ready for school and I thought:

'What am I supposed to do now?’

It’s an odd, directionless feeling – even if you’re set on going to university, taking a gap year, or getting a job. All are great options, different experiences that can help you figure out what you like, and more importantly, what you don’t like

I was sure that I didn’t want to go to university because I’d been in education for pretty much all my life. At that point, I just wanted to try something new, away from any kind of teaching institution.

Instead, I worked, saved some pennies and travelled across Europe, Asia and Africa. Seeing these places, and people from all kinds of cultures and communities, was a personal challenge and a chance to learn in a new way.

Interacting with people, cultures and situations far away from Western Europe – that you certainly don’t get to experience in school – is mind blowing. I’m very grateful to have been faced with these experiences.

I also worked for companies in my local area, which taught me to communicate with industry and make connections.

During this time, most of my friends were at uni, learning things that I wasn’t. Sometimes I consoled myself with thoughts like: ‘uni is too expensive, it’s only worth going if you know what you want to do’ and ‘travelling is so much more open minded, I have no cares’.

When friends came home from uni, it was weird not being able to find ways to relate to how great their Freshers’ Week had been or what they were doing on their course.

Similarly, they couldn’t see why I was so obsessed about having dinner with a family in remote Tanzania!

Taking a gap year before uni – what I learned

I’m now 20 years old, and I’m coming to the end of the first year of my undergraduate degree in Public History and Heritage. I wanted to study this subject because I found that, after my travels, I could relate much more to the contemporary issues that come up on the course.

For me, the decision to go to university came from my experiences of learning from other people whilst travelling; I wanted to further develop my interpretations of historical and cultural knowledge.

Gap years are hard work – it’s not all fun and carefree! It can get stressful or boring at times if you don’t have other plans or things you want to achieve. 

If you’re considering a gap year, ask yourself: ‘why?’ If you don’t want to go to uni, that’s perfectly acceptable. What else are you interested in exploring? What you choose now might help you later, especially if you decide to get more advanced training.

Likewise, if you want to go straight to uni, make the most of every experience – both from the institution, but also by getting yourself out there. I think one of the hardest things is being able to apply all the great theory you’re developing through your course to real situations and industries.

So, if you’re passionate about developing your skills in a specific area, make the most of your time, and make sure you meet people from across courses and departments.

Choosing to come to university now, after my break, has made it easier to see the pros and cons of both. I think it comes down to what you want to get from the experiences – and actually making that happen.

At university, it’s so amazing to have supportive staff and industry links around you that can give you clear advice and opportunities. But the real work is down to you as an individual, and that’s something I personally wouldn’t have the motivation for without being at university.

I guess my advice is speak to everyone you know who’s been in your position before you to try make these important decisions. Discussing your preferences out loud is really useful, and it helps you gain the clear perspective you need to make the right choices.

Where I am now is good. I’ve had a taste of both experiences and I understand what I’m capable of.

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.



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