If after years in the school system, you are feeling burnt out and want to take a break in-between the end of school and starting university, then you can take a gap year. If you're going to go down this route and take a gap year, I'm afraid it can't just be sitting around playing computer games, hanging out with your friends, and working in the local supermarket. You have to have a plan, otherwise this gap is going to look weird on your CV, and be hard to explain to universities, when you come to apply or if you defer entry, what you were actually doing with this time that was useful. This time can be put to such fantastic use.

You can go abroad, you can go traveling on an epic journey, and be the envy of all of your friends who are back at home studying, when they see your Facebook and Instagram, and see all the amazing places that you are visiting. Although, making other people jealous shouldn't be a reason for you to go traveling. You can go and teach English, art, drama, or music to under-privileged children in so many countries around the world, where they don't have as many opportunities as we do. You can go work in hospitals or orphanages, or you can go and dig wells for communities. Things that can have a long term, lasting impact on all the people that you're going to spend a year helping.

You can work in an animal sanctuary, or find an ecological conservation project that you're really passionate about. Maybe this links in with your degree, maybe this links in with your long-term career goals, maybe it doesn't, but something, a project that you could work on, that you could give back to the community. That you could give back to the wider world community, while you're taking a year off.

If you want to stay local, then you can go work in a care home, or you can work on a community project, or you could pick a cause that you're passionate about, and spend a year trying to make this better. Doing petitions, sorting out things in the local park, talking to the council, talking to the local community, trying to fix whatever projects, whatever thing that you decided needs fixing.

If you wanted to stay at home, you could be entrepreneurial. You could spend the year setting up a small business, and this has loads of advantages. It's going to give you loads of skills for when you get to university. You could be making money, and this could be a long-term thing, that could keep you sorted out money-wise, while you're at university.

You could go away from home and do a big project working. You could go work on a farm, go abroad and do fruit picking, do a really interesting internship, or go work in a school somewhere. Learning skills, learning potentially, about the career that you want to be following after university. If you're going to go and live abroad, you can probably immerse yourself in that culture. It maybe something completely different to what you're used to or it may be somewhere that speaks English, but somewhere that needs an au-pair. So you can go properly get into the culture, learning the language and the traditions of your host country.

The advantage of taking a gap year, is the massive wealth of experience you're going to come away with. You're going to come away with new skills, of getting on with people that you didn't necessarily think that you'd get on with and of learning and taking things on board. You could be earning money while you're doing this. You've got the chance to be refreshed, after years and years churning your way through the exam factory that is our school system. You're going to come out of this a little bit more mature, a little bit more independent than you were before and you have time to reflect about what you are going to do next. Is university really what you want to be doing? You've got the opportunity to undertake a massive challenge, something that you could really be proud of, something that you can take and give back to the world, give back to communities that are less fortunate than us. Sometimes we take what we have for granted, we don't realize how access to clean running water, and to electricity is actually a privilege, that so many people in the world don't have. You have the opportunity to spend a year, doing a little bit towards fixing these problems.

However, as brilliant as I think gap years are, there are a few disadvantages to them. If you don't plan them well, it can just be a massive waste of time. You may have all these grand plans, these grand ideas to go off and save the world, but if you don't actually get around to doing it, then you're just sitting at home for a year, which is a dull waste of time.

If you go on an organized tour, if you do go on this epic journey, that's going to make everyone jealous, then that is going to be really expensive. You might have to work and save up for this. You might have to take a loan out from your parents, or from a bank, which you'll have to pay back, and that's a lot of money.

While you are off doing amazing, fantastic things, you may decide that you don't want to go back. Now, some of you may see this as an advantage, others as a disadvantage, but this could be a massive interruption in your life plan. Then the shock of going back into the school system, into the university system, into the exam system, might be a bit hard for you to get used to.

Then while you're off having amazing fun, off on all of your adventures, you may forget everything you have learnt at A level. So that when you start in your first year at university, there are going to be people who have only been a few weeks out, and you who it has been over a year for, you may find yourself at a little bit of a disadvantage. Now if you decide to take a gap year, you're going to have to expect to talk about it in interviews and explain why. Please make sure you have a proper plan in place for this, and if you do go off on a gap year, I'm very jealous.

Deferred Entry

If you want to take a gap year but still apply to university at the same as everyone else, then you can defer your entry. To apply for deferred entry is really easy, you just tick a little box on the UCAS application but before you do that, make sure you check that the courses you're applying for actually accept students who have deferred entry. Some subjects, really competitive subjects, some universities, some courses don't like students who have deferred entry, they want students who come straight from school, so there's no gap in their studying. So before you apply for a course and deferred entry, make sure that they are going to accept you.

You're going to need to explain your decision to defer on your personal statement, why you decided to take a gap year, why you decided to defer your entry and if you can't come up with a good reason or you can't explain it well enough in your personal statement, then you're going to be in a little bit of a tricky situation. You're going to need to have plans or at least an idea of plans in place. You can't just turn up at the interview and say, "I'm going to play computer games for a year." Because, unless you're applying for computer games design, they won’t see the advantage. You have to have a plan, you have to do something productive, something useful, something good with this year. Just sitting around, playing computer games and working at the local supermarket probably isn't going to be good enough reason to defer your entry for a year.

If you change your mind after you've applied, it is possible to change it. If you want to defer your entry, then contact the universities directly and see if they will allow you to make that change. If you've applied for deferred entry but then don't want to take that up anymore, this a little bit of a trickier situation, because the university might not have places for you straight away. If they've allocated your place for a year later, there might not be space for you to start this year.

If you want to take a gap year, the advantages of deferring entry are that you're going through the process with all of your friends at the same time. You're applying at the same time, getting offers at the same time, you have the whole experience on results' day of the stress and the anxiety about what is going to happen. Then when your teachers come to writing your references, you're much fresher in your mind as opposed to having to remember you a year later, trying to remember exactly what you were like. Applying at the same time and deferring entry is going to be much easier application process.

Your other option is taking a gap year and then applying a year later, so you have your grades in hand. Now, you can go through the process with your peers, writing your personal statement, but don't actually apply. Leave your application till September and get it in right when the UCAS applications open and because you're already applying with your grades, you can pick and choose your universities a little bit better because you know whether you're going to meet the grade requirements or not and because you've done this, the universities might give you an unconditional offer. You might also have firm plans in place, because you've had more time to work out what you're doing on your gap year. When you apply for the UCAS on the deadline in January, you may not know what you're doing over the summer. But if we leave it for a year and apply when the next round of applications open in September, you might have got your gap year plans already sorted out so you can better answer questions in your personal statement and in an interview, as to why you're taking a gap year and what you're going to get out of it. If you're going to take a gap year, you have two choices, you can apply with everyone else and defer your entry or you can get your results, apply, and then take your gap year, knowing that you got a place waiting for you when you come back. The downside of this is that you might be invited to interview while you’re planning on trekking a rainforest or relaxing on a beach.

Gap years are fantastic, amazing things but only if you use them properly.