If like me, you are totally unsure about what you want to do after school you can be left feeling helpless and unsure of what the future may hold.

Many people opt for the options of gap years without a concrete plan of what they want to accomplish on their year, this leads to an unproductive year and often the sense of regret while seeing friends at university having a great time.

By no means am I saying not to do a gap year, I personally wish I had taken a gap year before I came to university, but all options must be weighed up in order to maximise your year.

I myself didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to study at university once I had finished A Levels, I had interests in psychology and geography but after looking at those courses they didn’t really appeal to me.

In the end I took a leap of faith and decided to opt for Sociology and Media knowing I wanted to be at Loughborough University.

While on an open day here I attended a talk on study exchanges and the range of places and options available to students in their 3rd year and immediately thought that’s what I want to do.

Before this talk I had no real clue about all the advantages of studying abroad and how much it can benefit you!


Study Abroad or a Gap Year? Pros and Cons

Choosing between a study exchange during university and a gap year before starting your academic journey is a decision that depends on what you want personally, your preferences, and personal circumstances.

It’s not an easy choice but hopefully in this blog I can help give some tips and pointers to make the decision slightly easier.


Why Choose a Gap Year

Phi Phi

Gap year’s have been rising in popularity in recent years with more and more students and young adults deciding to take a break between studying having finished A levels and before they head off to university.

Gap years are great for people who like me who have no idea what they want to study at university or just want to explore the world for a year. It gives people a chance to get out there and gain real world experiences whether that be travelling or working.

Everyone’s gap years can be different! Some people head for the popular youth destinations of Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia where cheap budget travelling is at its core, the adventurous ones amongst us look to the ski slopes and ski seasons which are becoming more and more accessible to us and others decide to get their heads down and work for a year to save money for university or future plans.

Whatever we do it is bound to give us the experience we need for the wider world whether that be going to university or into the world of work and this needs to be recognised.

There is far too much stigma around gap years being a waste of a year, we hear so much talk at school about what to do next and get so much help with applying for universities or apprenticeships but the support network for people wanting to explore the world or gain experience does not exist.


Why Choose Studying Abroad

Paris tourist Eiffel Tower

A university education involves more than just going to courses and getting a degree it's about expanding your horizons and throwing yourself into a variety of new experiences.

It is the first sense of freedom we get after leaving home and by undertaking a study exchange program, it is the perfect way to put yourself out of your comfort zone, take on new challenges and diversify your knowledge.

Last year I did exactly this and decide to head to Norway for a year long study exchange and I can very easily say it’s the best decision I ever made. The friends I made while out there, the experiences I had, and personal development was more than I could ever have imagined.

Studying abroad offers so many chances to learn and further your studies by learning from a different culture. For me, before going to study in Norway I was very apprehensive at first about going because it was a totally alien language and culture to me, I remember thinking what happens if no one speaks English and I don’t make any friends.

By as early as the first week I had realised there was no need to worry the Norwegians are some of the friendliest people I have ever met and made me feel right at home, everyone spoke perfect English and welcomed speaking it with me as it gave them a chance to practice!

Throughout the year I was able to go on some amazing trips all around Norway and Northern Europe as well as throw myself into the culture and experience everything Norway has to offer.

Still need some inspiration this is the right decision for you? Here are some of my top reasons to study abroad!

Low cost learning experience 
Support networks exist for university students who are wanting to go away on study exchanges. They offer financial support and have pre-existing relations with universities all around the world.

For me I knew going to Norway was going to be really expensive and that was another worry that I had, however after chatting to my uni I discovered there was a scheme called the Turing Fund which was there to support students going away abroad and this allowed me the financial freedom to enjoy myself while away!

Compare this to a gap year, which in most cases is financed individually and can be hard to raise the funds having come straight out of school it takes that pressure off.  

Allows for integrated experiences
By studying abroad in the middle of your degree it allows for the best of both worlds, it allow you to break up your studies ‘unofficially’.

I found that having to complete less modules while abroad and without the stress of it counting towards my degree, I was able to have more freedom and enjoy my studies more.

It gave me the chance to travel while I was away, and I managed to visit 6 new countries while on exchange.

Enhanced Career Opportunities 
By studying abroad, it allows you to gain that experience of learning and living in another culture and gives you so many things to talk about in interviews and another future job opportunities.

Having this on your CV is such a boost and shows you aren’t afraid to go outside of your comfort one and highlights the range of skills you’ve developed over the course of your time away. 

Studying abroad gives you the best of both worlds allowing you to travel and experience different cultures as well as learning and enhancing your academic knowledge and horizons.

There is that support network for you to help give you these opportunities and guide you down the road.


What is Best?

I would thoroughly recommend that everyone at least considers researching what is available to them before choosing universities or while at your university and not to miss out.

However as much as I advocate for study exchanges, gap years are still an incredible chance to broaden your prospects early in your young adult life and give you that extra amount of freedom compared to a year abroad.

By working or volunteering abroad or at home you will also gain invaluable experiences and that clarity going forward into university life about what you want to do!

In conclusion it’s a very personal decision about what you want to do and either of these avenues offer the chance for personal growth and unbelievable experiences. So get out there and start exploring! 

By Daniel Melling