Or “Why you shouldn’t panic if it doesn’t all work out the way you thought and take a gap year!”
For many of you who are waiting on or have just received results, you are probably already getting excited about the years ahead and that university place you’ve just got, but then (especially this year as universities are well over-subscribed) there will be some who miss out on the place they wanted and right now are probably feeling a little bit lost and down in the dumps This article is for those guys & gals, the future is here, and its looking pretty darn cool if you take up a few opportunities.
The next year is pretty much what you make of it really, and to demonstrate I’m going to tell the story of my gap year & how it all came about, of course there are a gazillion things you can do with your time, the reason for telling my story is to inspire you to go looking for those amazing opportunities (they don’t always land in your lap)
Okay, so rewind to my results day
I was calm, I’d done all I could in the exams, so nothing could really change what would be written on that piece of paper, plus (and okay maybe I had a calmness advantage here) I already knew that I wasn’t going to University that year, whatever the results, I’d applied for just two art colleges and had not been accepted because my portfolio wasn’t very well planned… if it all… it hadn’t occurred to me I might need a portfolio when I decided to apply! So anyway, by results day, the pressure of getting a place at university was gone; I’d have to find some other way to do what I wanted to do.
At this point, I probably could’ve tried clearing, but didn’t really fancy the idea of rushing off to a university I’d never visited or doing a course just for the sake of it. Gap year it was. I started calling it my “Gap Year” quite early on as there was a notion there of trying to get into university the following year. First rule of gap year – Give yourself a specified time period for your gap antics, otherwise it’s not a gap, just one big yawning crevasse of time and that is a much more daunting prospect.
Second rule of gap yearing make sure you do something! You could sit on your bum for a year, sponging off your parents, but it makes your parents grumpy, you get bored, your bum gets sore, and it’s a devil to explain to any future employers why you spent a year watching Jeremy Kyle (unless that is a specific part of your life ambition – become a JK ubergeek).
Back to the story. A-level results, happy with them actually, so no need to go back to college and do resits, what to do instead?
Task 1. Get on Google to look for ideas.
Task 2. Find a job.
Task 3. Learn something new.
Google yielded some gems pretty quickly, I decided I wanted to travel but knew I didn’t have the money or the confidence to chuck a backpack on and see where the road took me, so it had to be done another way. I started looking at Gap Year Programmes (again not cheap) and then other forms of volunteering abroad. I found two perfect options, one was Raleigh International – you do have to give them a lot of money, but all the money goes to charity so you fundraise for your expedition rather than pay straight out and the other was European Voluntary Service, where you can get complete funding to go and volunteer in any European country for 6 months to a year. I actually did both, but not in the same year my gap year choice was Raleigh International.
After a pretty hardcore qualification weekend, involving bivouac building, sleeping outdoors, midnight orienteering, badly cooked baked beans and a 6am lake task, I had my place on a July expedition to Belize in Central America. This was only September, so it seemed a long way off, however there was the small matter of fundraising the £3000 I needed to confirm my place. I had to get down to work straight away, conspiring all sorts of schemes to collect sponsorship from everyone I knew (and some I didn’t!). It sounds hard work, and it is, but you do get loads of support from the Raleigh International team, and people are generally very generous when you tell them what it’s for!
In the meantime, I got a Christmas temp job in WHSmith, which turned permanent so I got both income and some work experience for 9 months as well. Third rule of gap year: If you’ve not had a job yet, even part time, dive in as soon as you can and get one! It’ll look much better on your CV to have that experience than not have it, and you get to meet loads of new people outside of your school community the sort of grounding you will want, when you head off to University, Belize or wherever you end up!
As if that wasn’t enough to keep me occupied, I also took up Spanish in Adult Education, learnt how to Scuba dive both chosen with Belize in mind of course and had to start looking for universities as well
The University interviews worked out great this time round, I picked them carefully, built up my portfolio and got 6 unconditional offers to choose from that’s definitely one of the bonuses of knowing your results before you apply! The expedition fundraising was just about done in time for the May deadline, so all my future plans were now official and the only thing left to do was get really excited!!
July came; I handed in my first ever notice at work and hopped on a plane to Mexico. One great thing about Raleigh International is that everyone is pretty much in the same boat, no-one knows anyone else at the beginning, but straight away you’ve got to muck in with everyone else and make friends, or your 3 months will suck big time I don’t want to ramble on for too much longer about my trip (it will take much more internet space) so to give you a taster, I spent my 3 months like this 1 week jungle camp to acclimatise and learn which spiders are the ones to be afraid of, 3 weeks doing scientific surveys, underwater, and living on an uninhabited island, 3 weeks building a visitor centre in the rainforest, 2 days awaiting a hurricane downgraded to a tropical storm at the last moment -, 3 weeks finishing off a school! Then the end of expedition party and visits around all the projects before flying back home, tired, happy and (so my parents said) VERY smelly.
2 weeks later and I was starting at university in Cornwall, so from one group of brand new people to the next, I had plenty of stories to tell them.
The moral of this story is simple “Go for It!” There are more opportunities than ever out there, now that you’ve finished school, so there is no need to worry if your first batch of plans haven’t quite come about as expected, use your free time to find your gap year inspiration, you never know but it may change your entire life!
Raleigh International is a registered UK charity organising 1 week to 10 week expeditions for 17 – 24 year olds, you can find out more about their expeditions by visiting the website here.
European Youth Voluntary Service is another great project for volunteering abroad, I have also been on an EVS project, but maybe this is a story for another article! If you want to find out more on your own time, try this website.