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Is the traditional gap year gone for good?

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Students are being forced to adapt the traditional gap year, as the government's tripled tuition fees cause finance, life experiences and university to collide.

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Gap years are normally dreamt about, planned and achieved, with many naming travelling as one of life’s best experiences.

However when the government lifted the £3375 cap on tuition fees, suggesting universities could charge up to £9000 from October 2012, gap years began to hold a whole new meaning.

Esme Kemp, 18, a first year university student, has been on many holidays with her family and enjoyed the experience of learning new cultures and the experiences different countries brought. However when the government announced the tuition fee rise, Esme was forced to abandon her plan to travel independently as she felt she could not justify having three times the debt.

“I’ve missed out on a lot of life experiences as a result of being pushed into a university course so close after my A-levels. The rise in tuition fees pushed people into making a rush decision that shapes your entire life,” said Esme.

Esme attended the London student riots last summer, due to the anger she felt. Describing the general feeling at the riots as anger and disappointment she said:

“The very people who should have been taken into account weren’t and as a result are being punished for the failings of the government by having to pay extortionate prices for education.”      

Other students in 2011 also missed out on travelling aspirations in order to enter university before the tuition fee rise. Current applicants inevitably faced with higher fees, and are forced to substitute time travelling for earning money in preparation for higher education.

According to the application service UCAS, university applicants for 2012-2013 were down by 7.4%, compared to last year's application boom as students battled to get in before the tuition fees tripled.

For last years’ applicants the rise in tuition fees has meant that they have questioned entirely whether going to university is the right choice for them or an expectation. Taking a gap year allows them to decide where to go next and participating in projects abroad means they can continue to improve their CV.

STA Travel, a travel company that specialises in student gap years, says that gap years are no longer 12 months of solid travelling but are instead made up of short blasts of travel averaging of 54 days.

STA managing director John Constable said: “For many young people 2012 will be their ‘year of travel’ as they re-evaluate their future plans.

“Young people used to travel to broaden their horizons, however, this avenue has become more and more formalised with many young people incorporating some sort of skill and CV-boosting activity whilst they’re away.”

Gap years are no longer for travel, as students are opting for opportunities that enhance their chances of getting into demanding universities or to aid them into the career world despite not having a degree. Many even purely take a year out to earn money, which later supports them through their chosen course. 

Tamsyn Strange, 18 decided to take a gap year as higher tuition fees are unavoidable. In fact she states the rise in tuition fees only “affirmed the decision”. 

However Tamsyn said: “If I had been making the decision last year I don’t know what I would have done.”

Tamsyn, like many other students planning their gap year, has had to heavily adapt her travelling plans so they involve time to earn money, attend degree related  work experience and participate in partially funded projects abroad in order to enhance the academic and financial outcome of her gap year.

Taking a gap year is no longer just an opportunity to experience the world and its cultures. Instead students have to constantly question the impact of their decisions and take gap years to gain experiences for themselves and their life to come - ultimately leading to the meaning of gaps years to change forever, as they become more formalised and less free. 

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