THE last few months of school can seem an overwhelming time, when life is swallowed up by the raft of huge life decisions to be made, the looming examinations, pressure from comparing ourselves with friends who always seem to be far more collected and certain about life (although they very rarely are!), and the unsettling knowledge that we are coming to the end of a major and largely stable phase of our lives, and facing uncertainty and change.
At times like these, it can be tempting to follow the crowd and to find certainty and security in treading a well-worn path directly into a university course, or taking up the promise of a job or apprenticeship now and getting a career started.
However more and more of our students are choosing to pause for breath after completing their A Levels, and to build into their plans a period away from formal education or training. This may be in the traditional form of a gap year where a deferred university offer awaits them in a year’s time, or it may be that they will simply apply again in the next UCAS cycle, safe in the knowledge that they will be fully supported by school in doing so.
As a school we, like most universities, see immense potential value in a gap year so long as it is used productively, and to enhance the student’s experience and skillset. Whether through travel, volunteer work at home or abroad, work experience and internships, au pairing, gaining additional qualifications, Year in Industry programmes, organised gap year programmes such as Camp America or the International Citizen Service, or a combination of several of these activities, a gap year well used can be a life-changing experience, and can make an applicant even more attractive to universities and employers.
KATIE VEITCH, above left, left RGS in 2017. She worked in Cambodia with the charity Project Trust and spent three months au-pairing in Paris during her gap year. She is now studying theology at the University of Cambridge.
She says: "The most important thing I learnt was actually how narrow my world view prior to this year had been. I realised that my British way of life is only one way of life, that there are incredible places, cultures and people out there that previously I just had no idea about. Also, I learnt just how resilient and adaptable people are; I have so much more confidence now that I can take on a challenge and learn to live just about anywhere.
"I was a teacher at a small, rural primary school called Sala Monkey. I had a class of 11-year-olds with little to no English ability and so my job was to teach lessons in very basic English. I worked with the same class every day; this meant I got to see their progress over the seven months I was there, which was hugely rewarding. I watched them grow in confidence in speaking English; listening to students reading their first ever English book because of the work I'd done with them was just as proud a moment as anything I had ever achieved academically.
"I would advise everyone to take a gap year! Even if it's not teaching or travelling, being given a year to do something completely different is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. I think it’s really beneficial to take time away from studying to gain some perspective and try something new: university will always be there and I feel better-prepared now that I've had some time doing something else."
Pictured top: Mr Fell outside the Sixth Form Centre