A Level results week: Never too late to consider a gap year

Posted on the 17th August 2018

‘What am I going to do after college?’ – if there is a single day in the year that focuses the minds of young people and their parents on this question, it is A Level results day. The results on this day reflect the culmination of years of study but can still raise more questions than answers about future plans. These include a myriad of queries about university and other study opportunities in higher education, as well as deliberations about starting work formally, apprenticeships, leaving home, taking a gap year, travelling the world, parental expectations, peer pressure … the list is endless.

This focus was brought home to me recently when chatting to some family friends and their daughter. She, like so many at this time, was anxiously waiting for A Level results day to see if she had obtained the grades for her conditional university place. In the time between finishing A Levels and waiting for her results she had been interrailing around Europe with some friends. While chatting to her, I was aware of a change. She was questioning the merits of continuing straight into university: she was keenly aware of the cost of UK university fees and the importance of making the right decision: she was aware that the number of students dropping out of their degree course in the first year is increasing. A Guardian newspaper article from March 2018 states that 6.4% (or 26,000) UK university students who started in 2015 did not continue beyond their first year. She could reflect on her recent travels through Europe and see that this had opened her mind to experiences and opportunities of which she had not previously been aware. She was now seriously considering options that would allow her to gain more experience and personal development before committing to a three-year university degree.

She was asking the right questions. What are my gap year options, and am I too late to be thinking about a gap year? Will I return to my studies if I take a gap year? Can I afford to do something really worthwhile? Her parents, probably representative of most parents at this time, were anxious. They would rather their daughter continue straight to university and so were understandably nervous about a sudden change in plans. The reality is that all young people will need to make key decisions on the basis of their A Level results. Many will achieve the grades required, accept a place on their chosen degree course and start packing for the imminent start of term in September or October. Some will have waited for their results and will then start the process of applying for a degree place through the UCAS clearing system. Some will change their plans altogether.

Deferring a place at university is still common and the percentage of people doing this each year remains constant. It may be possible to defer a place after your results. You have nothing to lose by asking the university about the possibility of deferral, and they may be happy to agree – particularly if they are oversubscribed. Recent research from North America shows that 90% of those taking a gap year start university the following year.

At Lattitude, we expect to receive new applications after A Level results day. Each year, up to 15% of all young people from the UK who are placed abroad by Lattitude, only apply after receipt of their A Level results. Our placements starting between January and March are our most popular, totalling about 60% of the young people we place each year from the UK. Most young people are fortunate in that they can continue to live at home, rent free, after their results. They are able to spend the autumn working and saving towards a really worthwhile international experience which starts in January, and fill the remainder of their gap year in this placement before resuming their studies the following year. Placement length is something we feel is really important. If you are planning to take a gap year, try to fill as much of it as possible with something really meaningful.

The longer a placement lasts, the greater the likelihood that the role will carry more responsibility – with actual duties – and ultimately will look better on a CV or application. Longer placements mean more chances to build meaningful relationships with colleagues and develop friendships in the local area, more time to learn about a different culture – and more opportunities even to learn a language.

While many young people will spend their gap year a long way from home – for example, in Australia, parts of Africa or Latin America – Lattitude also has opportunities in European countries, such as Spain or Poland. You don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to immerse yourself in a different culture and have an amazing gap year experience. For some young people, being able to come home easily at certain times during their placement is really attractive, and a visit from family and friends is considerably easier if you are closer to home. Our opportunities in Europe are also much more affordable and so would appeal to those on a reduced budget. J.K. Rowling, one of many celebrities who took a gap year during her studies, crafted some of the earliest Harry Potter passages during a year in Portugal, where she split her time between writing and teaching English.

So, for my friends’ daughter, A level results week is not too late to be considering a gap year. Young people will be making plans on the basis of their results and many of those will be considering a gap year, perhaps for the first time. There are still plenty of amazing options, with organisations like Lattitude, to spend time abroad – and there is still time to do the necessary preparation and get the necessary funds together.

If you want to do further research into taking a gap year, the Year Out Group (YOG ) is an association of approved gap year providing organisations, most of which are registered in the UK. At least one of the principal activities of each of these organisations is the provision of well-structured gap year programmes in the UK or overseas. Alternatively, give us a call or, if you are local to the Reading area, arrange to come in for a chat. We’d love to meet you!


James Langdon

Regional Director

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