This is a question on many young people’s minds when considering a gap year. With the prospect of debt looming post university studies, or the worry that you might lose the drive and motivation to continue with your studies if you do one before university, one of the key considerations is when is the best time to take this valuable time out.

Below we try to dispel some of the myths attached to when is best to take a gap year.

Before University
It has become increasingly common for people to take their gap year in between A-levels and university. Aged 18, having spent 14 years in solid education, now is the perfect time to break away from the mould and see what else is available to you. Finally the decision is yours, and you can make the most of your time. This is a time where you are free of responsibility and can really make the most of what is out there for you.

Many people are concerned that if they were to take a gap year in between college and university, they would not return to full time education. This, I believe, is a myth. When doing a constructive gap year project with other people of the same age, you are all in the same boat, with the same expectations. Living and working in a completely different environment for 6 months will certainly change perspectives, however it does not mean that it would convince you not to continue on to university. Breaking free from education is very liberating, but it is also quite a shock: we are used to the classroom environment, and the majority of people aged 18 do seek the comfort of it again after a gap year.

Taking a gap year post A-levels fully prepares you for what is ahead at university. You will have the academic skills that will help you to boost your university experience, but do you have the life skills to really understand the value of what you are doing and help you to make the most of some of the most fun years of your life? 20% of students drop out of their first few weeks at university. Only 4% of those are people who took a gap year.

It is also important to consider that you might like to go straight into graduate employment after you university time rather than take a gap year then.

Taking a gap year before university gives you the opportunity to take a breather from education, and return a year later with a great experience under your belt and feeling fresh and ready to take on the world again.

After university
Taking a gap year after university is also an option. You are emotionally more mature to deal with it and maybe make more of your experiences. There are however a few considerations that you need to bear in mind: first and foremost, that of student debt.

With the student tuition fees set to increase in 2012, student debt at the end of university is likely to be considerable. However, having experienced this myself, I can honestly say that the debt post-university is not a negative debt. It is one that sits there waiting to be paid off, deducted slowly but surely from your monthly wage, slipping away in such small amounts that you do not even realise it is there. It is taken from your pay before it even reaches your bank account. The debt is not like that of a credit card, and it does not inhibit you when taking a loan such as a mortgage. It is only deductible when working over a specified pay amount. So yes, when you leave university you will have a debt, yet this should no way stop you from having a gap year.

An important consideration is that of graduate schemes and graduate jobs: you can still apply for graduate schemes the year after you finish university, but you may wish to launch yourself straight into your career and finally make some money, rather than spend it like you do as a student.

I personally took my gap year after university. This by no stretch makes it a better option, it was just what was right for me. When finishing my A-levels, I simply was not interested in doing anything more than going on to university. If you are in the same boat as I was, then a gap year is not right for you at this time. However, if you do want to do one now: do it. If you sign up for uni now half wishing you were doing a gap year, the likelihood is that you will not enjoy your course so much. You may even drop out.

So my advice to you is to do it: make the most of what you want to do.

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