It isn’t often that you come across a real fork in the road in life – but you do at the end of your A-levels.
As friends choose between going to university, starting an apprenticeship, starting a career or taking a gap year, knowing that whichever option you choose will determine the next chunk of your future doesn’t make the decision any easier.
If it wasn’t your plan in the first place, a gap year might sound absolutely awful. It might sound like joining Instagrammers on the Inca trail, somehow scraping the money together for a £500 flight and telling friends you’re “literally in Burma”.
It’s a huge shame that somewhere down the line, our idea of what a gap year is became so limited.
Of course spending a year volunteering in Tanzania or backpacking across Argentina could be fantastic if you want to, and can afford to – but gap years don’t have to look like that.
A gap year can simply be a gap between different periods of education. If A-levels made you sick from the pressure, as they did me, you might simply need a break.
After being stuck in education for thirteen years, why not pause for one before embarking on the next three?
How you spend that year is up to you. I didn’t want to, and couldn’t, immediately fly out for a round-the-world trip; I wanted to get my first full-time job, gain some independence before I went to university and, most of all, spend a year without having to look at a text book.
It was exactly what I needed.
Within a few months of working at a (albeit very busy) stationery shop, I felt the exam stress finally leaving my system and an increasing realisation that my life choices weren’t nearly as limited as I thought they were. If I wanted to, I could not go to university after all and keep doing what I was doing.
It was a chance to test drive adulthood before entering the classroom again; buying pints with money from my own pay check instead of the student loans company, working nine hours a day without the guilty feeling I should be doing coursework once I get home.
After a year of dealing with customers and stacking Pukka pads, I felt ready to write in one again and off to university I went.
Once fresher’s week came along I appreciated the amount of free time you have as a student (if you study English, anyway – sorry scientists), and knew what a 40-hour week would feel like once I came out the other end.
I’d recommend that everyone considers it, especially if you’re a little burned out after A-levels.
Resist temptation to keep riding that adrenaline wave of exam stress straight into your undergraduate degree – a gap year will re-energise you and set you up for the future in other ways.
If you don’t want a text-book gap year, that doesn’t mean you can’t travel at all either; how about a few weeks in Spain, or even a weekend in Amsterdam?
Whatever you choose, you’ll soon realise that a year goes by awfully fast.
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