Opinion: University life won't be the same, but better to jump right in than defer

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By Kitty Lawton, First Year English

With the release of UCAS figures showing the number of prospective undergraduates choosing to defer has dipped, I envisioned where I stood a little over a year ago, added in the context of a global pandemic for good measure, and asked: what would I have done?

As someone who has been fortunate enough to avoid having to make this difficult decision upon leaving school, I cannot help but feel sorry for next year’s freshers and the dilemma that they face : ‘Is COVID-19 a good reason for a gap year?’

The deadline for students to make a decision on whether or not to accept University offers has passed. However, this does not mean they are committed to their decision. They can still change their minds.

There are many things to consider before making the leap into University life. In spite of the ultimate purpose of University being a place of study, I think most students would agree that the social side is equally important.

Now, clubs may be shut, society meetings may be on Skype, and the first ever encounters with potential life-long friends may be at a two metre distance.

According to one survey by the University and College Union, more than 20% of students approaching the end of their secondary education say they are willing to postpone the start of their course if Universities are not operating normally due to the pandemic.

As a result, there will be a shortage of approximately 120,000 students across all UK Universities when the new academic year begins in October. With the knowledge that you may not have the opportunity to meet as many people at University as you expected, what would you do?

The impact that coronavirus has had on the social element of University has undoubtedly become a widespread issue. Many students are rightly concerned about the loss of the social aspect of Univerity and feel like they will not be getting the same experience as those who went before them.

Moreover, the decision-making process has become even harder as potential students do not know what to expect.  Ultimately, the uncertainty of what access aspiring students will have to a social life makes it very difficult for them to feel positive about a decision to begin their course in the next academic year.

However, there are arguments for both sides. When I initially pictured myself facing this conundrum, I thought: ‘Of course I’d defer; after two years of hard work to get those all-important A levels,  it almost seems like a right of passage to at least experience a real Freshers Fair and go clubbing with your friends.’ After all, doesn’t everyone deserve the full University experience?

Not deferring may mean never feeling the terror and excitement of walking in late to your first lecture hall because it took you twenty minutes to figure out that there are actually two buildings called ‘8 Priory Road’.

It could mean never going on a spontaneous coffee trip with someone you just met, and may never see again. To put it simply, you might just end up feeling robbed of the experiences you’d been waiting for your entire school life.

Of course, you would also want to consider safety. If you have an underlying health condition or are planning to study from home and live with grandparents, then deferring for a year might be the best option. As my Dad always says: ‘Life’s a long time’ and Uni isn’t going anywhere.

For some people, taking a year out might be exactly what’s needed to reset and prepare for the challenges University will bring. Whether A levels have left you exhausted or you still have some hope of travelling the world, a year out may help you build confidence and work on your mental state.

After all, the pandemic has not only been a challenge for prospective students, but current ones too. Speaking from my own experiences, whether it’s the sense of isolation that comes with staying at home, or the struggle of adapting to online teaching, coronavirus has made it more difficult for all of us to perform at our usual standard.

Having thought of all this, however, I have come to the conclusion that, if I were in their shoes, I would not take a year out. Although many people accomplish great things during their gap year, our fast-paced, modern world has definitely sparked an urge in a lot of us to move at a constant pace and not let obstacles get in our way.

The pandemic has taken so much from us already, why let it steal another year?

If we are to think positively, there is no guarantee that things won’t be more or less back to normal by October. Besides the shift to online lectures, lockdown has been easing at a slow but steady pace, with the promise of pubs opening outdoors in July. The Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, even announced that gyms may open at the ‘start of July at the very earliest’, therefore providing some hope that by October, normality will not be far from reach.

However, the most important factors I considered when imagining myself in this dilemma, were the issues surrounding deferral and the possible overload of applications for the academic year 2021/2022.

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If 120,000 students do delay their time at University this year, then surely it will be harder to guarantee your first choice University next year, with the possibility of less lenience on grade requirements due to a higher volume of applications.

Therefore, if you cannot secure a deferral this year, it would definitely be safer to try and bag a place at your dream University while you can.

Ultimately however, future students at Bristol and other Universities around the country should do what is right for them. Yet after the considerations of safety, social needs and of course deferral options, I would suggest jumping into the University experience regardless of the pandemic.

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What would you do if you were making the decision over deferral?

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