If your A-Level results aren’t as good as you wanted, here’s why you should take a gap year

You don’t have to take a mediocre course through Clearing

I can still remember the exact feeling standing in an old stuffy English classroom and opening my A-Level results to see that I had not got the grades I was hoping for. Suddenly you’ve got teachers all around you, pulling you left, right and centre. “Can you appeal?” “What went wrong?” “You worked so hard?” “Can we get on the phone to universities and apply through Clearing?”And before you know it, you are on the phone to about five different unis, your mum furiously scribbling down random courses you had no interest in applying for. Childhood studies at Bristol University anyone?

If you wake up tomorrow morning, and you think you’ve failed your A-Levels because you haven’t got your predicted grades – I’m here to tell you that you really haven’t. There’s going to be a lot of noise around you and a lot of people telling you what to do. Take a step back. Ignore your head of sixth form who is badgering you to get a place through Clearing – it’s in their’s and the school’s interest to see you get into a prestigious university. In fact that’s why they are very unlikely to have ever uttered the words “gap year”. 

Gap years have such a negative stereotype among British students because they are never promoted to us as something to do before university. If you hear the words “gap year”, you’ll be forgiven for pronouncing it “gap yahh” in your head and thinking of entitled, rich kids finding themselves whilst stroking an elephant in Thailand. I ended up taking a gap year instead of going through Clearing and I’m going to explain to you why taking one is not just that lazy stereotype and why, if you you don’t get grades you wanted tomorrow, taking a gap year is going to be the best thing you could ever do. 

You can apply again for your dream course

This is such an obvious point but it’s something that is painfully overlooked on results day. You might have missed out on your dream course for this September but guess what, it’s going to start again the following September and at the minute, all those places are empty. 

Taking a gap year gives you the opportunity to take a few months, reapply with your actual grades rather than your predicted grades and write a stronger personal statement because you aren’t bogged down in the middle of year 13 stressing about a million other different things. 

The truth as well is that if you take a few months and apply again in October, you might realise you want to do something completely different. I was originally going to do history at Leeds. In the end, I changed course and university and did politics at Bristol. Four years later, I know how invaluable that decision was and it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take a gap year.

You get to earn proper money and gain independence

When you are at school, you are limited to how many free hours you have. You might have a Saturday job but working a few hours a week, combined with a frustratingly low under-18 minimum wage, means it’s very hard to ever save up that much money. 

You have a year now to earn a proper salary. And with that money, you can do things you couldn’t have afforded before. Get driving lessons. Buy the car you’ve always wanted to. Go abroad and travel around the world. So many people think gap years are just about the three months you spend in south-east Asia but what you do to get yourself there (if you want to go) is where you really grow.

failed A-Levels gap year

If you go straight from A-Levels into Freshers’ Week, you haven’t really experienced life yet. You are still in that school bubble. Working in a pub or a cafe or a restaurant, you are going to meet all kinds of different people. You’ll become friends with people and experience things you just never would do at uni. All the while, you are earning money that you can set aside for the future, money you would never have if you went straight to uni.

The adventure of travelling around the world

Travelling is not just what you see in an Instagram post. Travelling is being in a part of the world where nobody speaks English. It’s going on 12 hour night buses with the locals. Renting motorbikes with your provisional license and zooming along coast roads. It’s staying in £3 hostels and eating £1 meals. It’s the conversations and the people you meet and the things you see. 

failed A-Levels gap year

Going travelling throws you in the deep end and makes you a stronger, better-rounded person. You are going to see and experience things that stay with you for the rest of your life. Once you’ve made friends with complete strangers in a hostel bar who are older than you and from another part of the world, do you know how easy is it when it comes to Freshers’ Week? You are going to walk into Freshers’ and flourish because you know how to meet new people and all that anxiety has gone. 

failed A-Levels gap year

Who actually cares if you graduate a year later?

What is this mad rush to finish uni at 21? And why on earth would you actually want to be spat out into the real world at 21? Going to university a year later, i.e. being 19 and graduating when you are 22 is nowhere near the big deal you might fear it is. Your school mates will be one year ahead of you at uni. So what. It just means you get to go and visit them across the country and go on fun nights out with them on your gap year. And then when you are a fresher, you’ve got bundles of knowledge and advice from them to learn from. 

90 per cent of my friends went straight to university after A-Levels but I’ve finished my degree before loads of them. Some people have integrated years abroad, some people resit a year, others stay on to do a Master’s. You’ll find that by the time you get to final year, you’ll have caught up with your mates and be finishing roughly around the same time they are.

Finding yourself

failed A-Levels gap year

‘I found myself whilst stroking this elephant’

No one “finds themselves” on their gap year. There’s no eureka moment where your life suddenly changes. And it definitely doesn’t happen on a beach in Bali. Your gap year will shape you. You’ll learn things about yourself because you are thrown into situations you’ve never experienced before. You’ll go into your first year of uni next year with a confidence that you just won’t get coming straight from A-Levels. 

Being worried about studying or learning how to cook, or living independently or making friends, all these things subside when you’re a year older and a year wiser. At the very least, you are going to have some outrageously good stories to tell when you are playing Ring of Fire in your flat pres. 

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