For a number of reasons, many students choose to take a gap year before university, deciding either well in advance of A Levels or on results day itself. For me, someone who enjoys studying and the structure of full-time education, a year away from the classroom was never part of the ‘plan’, but, unexpectedly, my plan was changed. Still enthused to study Law at university, I intend on re-applying to university for next year’s entry, as well as utilising this year and seizing all opportunities that arise. For future lawyers also taking a year out, or perhaps just considering one, this article will detail how I am structuring my ‘legal gap year’, in addition to providing some advice about this daunting, but exciting year ahead.
On the subject of plans, the most important thing to do before taking a gap year is to plan out what you would like to do. Otherwise, there is a risk of wasting this time out and lacking productivity, which may not look good from the perspective of universities or employers. This plan could form years or days before the year commences. Moreover, one’s definition of ‘productivity’ and how to best spend their year is entirely individual.
As my own gap year was unexpected, I had no specific activities in place for the upcoming months, but a few hours spent considering what I really wanted for the future soon led me to a few ideas. Of course, much of the first few months will be spent thinking about UCAS and the LNAT for my second university application (see below), but I also intend to work and save up for my upcoming studies. Whilst it’s beneficial to be employed in an environment that is linked to your subject, it can be hard to land such roles at this early stage, and so developing skills in any workplace is valuable – it’s how you tailor them to Law that matters. Whilst tackling UCAS, I’ll be working in a restaurant, engaging with customers and handling multiple tasks at once. This ability to communicate with a range of people and balance deadline could, for example, be transferred to meeting with clients and dealing with a heavy legal workload, which are activities that often fill a Lawyer’s schedule.
Of course, this year should also be about enjoyment and experiencing life outside of the classroom, so ticking off the ‘to-do’ list that has been building throughout your years of education is another way to make the most out of your time. From learning to play a new instrument to joining a team sport, or even just reading a non-academic book, this break between one set of exams to another is an amazing opportunity to focus on your interests. It can also be said that you can build on your professional profile whilst taking time off. Travelling is always a good way to spend a gap year and, not only will you see amazing sights and meet new people, you will also be improving your organization (planning your routes and journeys), independence (perhaps going abroad for the first time without parents) and knowledge (gaining an awareness of different cultures and learning new languages along the way). On the other hand, as planes and trains are expensive and thus not always part of a gap year budget, you can alternatively explore your passions and add to your CV at home, for example by volunteering with a charity that you are interested in, doing work experience, or taking free courses online.
Everyone knows that the UCAS process is stressful, yet the added stress of doing it twice is never really discussed. The TSL community has produced a range of information and tips on how to pick and apply for a law course, as well as how to ace your admissions test, which is all still relevant when applying the second time round. I thought I would also answer a few of the frequently asked questions that always arise for those re-applying:
If you applied to university through UCAS to go straight after A Levels or the equivalent, but are now re-applying to go after a gap year, your first UCAS profile is no longer applicable, and you have to create a new account, with new information and a new ID number, for the next application cycle. This means you have to put in all of your details, and pay the application fee, once again.
With regards to statements, if you were happy with the personal statement you submitted last year, then there is nothing to stop you from re-sending the same one. On the other hand, it is worth having another look at what you wrote, as you may have had new ideas, developed new skills and or learnt from new experiences.
If your first round of applications did not go as well as you wanted, your personal statement is a good way to show how much you want to study Law and commit to a degree. A competitive statement should focus more on your interest in the subject for which you are applying than your extra-curricular activities, as courses like Law involve a great education and challenge, thus universities want to make sure you are a good fit. For your second application, it may be worth adding in more academic aspects – discussing books or articles you have read about interesting areas of the law and removing some non-academic. Moreover, with law being exciting and ever changing, some references to cases or statutes from your old statement may have become outdated in the past year, and so may need to be changed or removed. It is crucial to show universities that you are engaged with legal news, and have an active interest in the real world of the law, therefore refreshing your knowledge will be an advantage.
If you declined a university offer for last year and now want to re-apply, or if you did not receive and offer from a university but want a second chance, it is of course acceptable to re-apply to some of the same universities as you did the first time.
However, a benefit of applying with your results is that you have a clear idea as to what universities are likely to accept you, thus you can spend time choosing carefully between a few achievable options – rather than the sea of universities that you can swim through before knowing your grades. Moreover, a second application will allow you to re-think last year’s approach, and perhaps prompt you to look at new locations that never crossed your mind before.
Unfortunately, your LNAT score from one academic year cannot be transferred into the next, and so you have to book, pay for, and sit the LNAT again if you are re-applying to a university that requires it. Fortunately, if you did not prepare as well as you could have the first-time round – perhaps if you were focusing on your education, or did not do as well as expected – with this being an unfamiliar style of test, you now have the chance to have another go, with the advantage of knowing what format the test is in and in what areas you need to make improvements. Doing the practice tests on the LNAT website is still an excellent way to prepare, as well as reading a broadsheet newspaper to become more familiar with varied terminology and stay on top of current events.
Though I have come up with a plan to fill my year out and do the things I couldn’t have from within a lecture hall, and though I have cancelled my first UCAS and Student Finance applications (which is crucial in order to avoid complications and can be done over the phone or online), I still have uncertainties about the year ahead.
A common fear that puts young people off a gap year is that you may lose your motivation to study, and thus not perform as well at university if you choose to attend a year later. Personally, I will be taking evening classes to remain compatible with educational environments, as well as reading around the areas of Law that I am most interested in, both giving me a head start on any future studies and allowing me to gain a better understanding of a topic that intrigues me. For some, a year away from education may only increase their desire to return to it, perhaps putting them in a better mindset than those who have come straight from A Levels. Another concern is that you may find a gap year in the ‘real world’ more preferable to education and not want to head off to university in September, maybe having found a job that you enjoy or moved to a new, exciting country. However, it is in these situations that you may want to consider if further education is really the path you want to go down and start to explore other methods of achieving your goals that don’t necessarily require a degree.
Finally, an apprehension that I and many others have is that the universities I apply to, and even those interviewing me for future jobs, may view my break from education negatively – possibly questioning my commitment, motivation or reliability. However, as mentioned above, we cannot always stick to the plan we first envisioned, and sometimes there are a few extra steps along the way. Many universities and employers will view a gap year as a good opportunity for young people to gain experience – travelling, volunteering, working – and a better understanding of life outside education. Whether you take a year out or not, it will be your hard work and determination that will benefit your future.
September has, for as long as I and most young people can remember, always marked the beginning of a new school year. The beginning of a gap year, on the other hand, is something in which I lack practice. The upcoming months will be filled with new experiences and challenges, but, as any lawyer will testify, it is how you face the unknown that matters. Whether you are taking a gap year now or think you will in the future, I hope you have come across something helpful in my update.
Be sure to check TSL in the future for additional legal gap year advice.
Article by Eliza Liddicott