The big day has arrived: A-level results day. A day of reckoning for some, and champagne-drenched delight for others.
All that hard work, sweat, blood and tears converted into a small selection of letters. Letters that will determine the next stage of your life plan.
But what do these letters actually mean to you? To be honest, it's fairly simple. Once you boil it down, it seems that come results day, you'll almost certainly find yourself in one of these four scenarios:
a) You get the grades you need and head to uni as planned.
b) You get the grades, uni says great, but you can’t face more education right now – summer's been awesome and you‘re just not ready for more academia.
c) You get better grades than you expected (yay) and the option of your first choice of uni (who so rudely turned you away) is now back in the game.
d) You didn’t do as well as expected and you await clearing and/or flat rejection. Re-application is looming. Just remember - every cloud has a silver lining.
The Importance of a Back-Up Plan
Whatever lands on your lap on results day can’t be changed overnight, but what can be changed is how you deal with the result. Prior preparation is always a good thing and having a back-up plan is always advisable.
I know you’re going to think, 'she runs a gap year company - she would say that'. But if I didn't passionately believe the following mantra, then I never would have ended up in the position I'm in today...
'A gap year is a winner and everyone should take one, especially straight after school.'
So if you are sent a curve ball and feel a change of plan is needed – don’t panic. Taking a gap year whilst you reassess your next steps towards higher education or a career could be the best thing that has ever happened to you.
Why? Because quite simply, you're unlikely to ever have time like this again. Once you graduate, you’ll be laden with debt and the rush to bag a job will be quite frenzied. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be swept along by the job-hunting bandwagon.
By securing or postponing a university place to begin a year after you get your A-level results, you'll have security and freedom for 12 whole months. That’s a chunky piece of time to fill. And fill it you will.
There'll be enough time to earn some cash from a summer job so that you can independently choose and (much to your parents' delight) pay your own way towards doing something extraordinary.
I always thought it sounded condescending when I heard other parents mutter how their son or daughter had returned from a year away seeming 'so much more mature'. But now I'm a parent in my 40’s (keep that to yourself!), and I’ve sent many Leapers away, I find myself thinking exactly that.
The difference at university between those who've arrived straight from school who haven't is palpable, and you’ll find two tribes emerging in Fresher’s Week. It’s not fixed in stone, but you'll soon see subtle differences in how they handle themselves in the kitchen, laundry room and even the bar.
What Shall I Do On My Gap Year?
Remember how I mentioned doing 'something extraordinary'? Then read this carefully: there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about sitting at home, doing 'sweet f.a.'.
This is the time to think outside of the box and go for it. There are so many exciting things for you to get your teeth stuck into – volunteer in Cambodia, climb Africa’s largest mountain, swim the channel, trek to the source of the Nile, gallop across the plains of Mongolia, swim with a great white, teach English overseas, meet the orang-utans in Borneo or protect turtles in Costa Rica.
Another approach is to work abroad for a few months before giving yourself a well-deserved break and hitting the backpacker trail. You’ll be hanging with new friends in remote places, covering yourself with henna tattoos and returning super-tanned and worldly. Time it right and you’ll knock ’em dead in Fresher’s Week.
Sound appealing? Don’t go anywhere without looking at How To Find Jobs Overseas: Everything You Need To Know and Backpacking Essentials: The No B.S. Guide to Plan the Perfect Trip. Read those two and you’ll have everything covered.
Why Should I Take A Gap Year?
By now you should be starting to see that when it comes to what to do on your gap year, the list goes on. What's more, you’ll have one of the best years of your life. But what about the other benefits? If you're still in any doubt about the wisdom of deferring uni for a year, consider the following...
- You'll Find Yourself
Yes, it’s a cliché. But that doesn't make in any less important, right? And you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s more fun to figure out a few things about yourself whilst travelling around the world and having the time of your life than when you’re sitting at home trying to find a job or pay the bills.
- You'll Discover New Countries and Cultures
How many people do you know who say, 'I’d love to travel the world someday'? Well, today is someday - for you at least. There are so many countries and cultures different from our own, it’s important that we all take the time to understand the ways and beliefs of other people.
And what better way to do it than visiting these different countries and learning first-hand from the locals? I can personally guarantee that one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do is coming home to family and friends and seeing the look on their faces when you explain that in Asia, they make coffee from beans that have been digested and excreted by a cat. True. Story.
- You'll Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Gain a New Perspective
How long do you think you could last without your phone, wifi, or your favourite playlist? Do you think you’ll cope well with seeing poverty along the streets you walk, or children working instead of being at school? Well depending on where in the world your gap year takes you, then the chances are at some point you’re going to have to go without your beloved gadgets and come face-to-face with people less fortunate than yourself.
But take it from me: it will change you for the better. You’ll come away realising that at some point, we all take what we have for granted. And when you realise something like that, you gain a whole new (hopefully better) perspective on life.
- You'll Build Skills for Life
Whatever you chose to do on your gap year, the planning of it all, the fending for yourself, the exciting experiences and the learning of new things will all help make you more mature and independent. It’s a given. And the knowledge and qualities you develop will be with you for life.
- You'll Meet New People
When you figure out what you want to do on your gap year, and you’re actually doing it, the chances are that you will be in the company of some very like-minded people. They will share the same interests and opinions as you, because after all, you all reached the same decision to [insert your awesome gap year choice here].
And let’s not forget - what’s the added bonus of making friends from around the world? You suddenly have a sofa to crash on in a whole bunch of different places around the world (just saying).
- You'll Have a Lasting Feeling of Achievement
Not many people get to say that they’ve spent a year living the life of their dreams - partly because it takes guts, motivation and a lot of planning and organisation. But can you imagine once you’ve returned from your gap year, just how great you’ll feel? You’d have done something that very few other people around you have done, and chances are, they will be jealous of you for years to come.
- You'll Feel Refreshed and Focused
As well as feeling great upon your return (and being the envy of all your family and friends), you will also feel refreshed and focused, making it much easer to think about what you want to do with your life. Combined with your new perspective on things, you'll soon be flying towards the next goal you set yourself - be it going on to further education, getting a new job, or something entirely different.
By the way, all that becomes easier once you add your unique experience to your CV or university application. Seriously, a gap year will make your CV pack a punch.
The world is out there to be explored, and it doesn't care what grades you get. Go do it and remember this:
'20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away form the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.' - Mark Twain.
Wise words from Mr Twain. Good luck on results day!
on 13 / 08 / 2014