Mind The Gap: How a Gap Year Redefined My Path

Mind The Gap: How a Gap Year Redefined My Path

by Victoria Ayodeji

Are you considering a gap year or a sabbatical? Or do you know someone who is?

Well according to The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) I was one of the less than 6% of students yearly who defer their university entry and instead take a gap year. I decided to take a gap year before starting university and for many a gap year can be seen as an exciting, courageous yet mysterious rite of passage. 

With exam season almost over and A-Level results day soon approaching many young people across the country will be considering their next steps post-education. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing my experiences of taking a gap year after finishing my A-Levels and before starting university. Read on to learn about why I decided to take a gap year and what I felt I gained from the experience during the year and several years later. 

A gap year isn’t just an opportunity to ‘find yourself’, it can also be a great time to think about what it is you really want to do with your future, develop your skills, and earn some cash. Many young people are choosing to use their gap year to gain valuable life and work experience in industries which interest them before deciding whether they want to pursue higher education, do an apprenticeship, or get started on the career that most appeals to them. Reflecting back on my time in school, I believe that for many young people, gap years can also be great if you do better than expected in your A-Levels, as it gives you a chance to reapply to universities with more demanding requirements, which for some this can pay off in the long-term as it may potentially give you a better chance at securing a higher graduate salary. 

At the age of 18 I had to make many important decisions, all in the space of the first few months of Year 13. Was I going to go to university? If so, what five universities would I apply to and put on the infamous UCAS form? Was I going to leave the comfort of my own home, or move to a university miles away? And of course, what university course would I pick? Many students think of taking a break or a ‘gap year’. Some decide to go on a long holiday with friends or family and some even take part in a ‘voluntourism’ trip abroad, but I knew that neither of these options were long enough to fulfil my urge to travel and expand my horizons. For me, a year full of both personal and professional development seemed like the perfect thing to do straight after Year 13. 

So, in November 2016, alongside applying to university and preparing for my A-Levels, I began planning a gap year that I knew would be life-changing. I was fortunate to have the support of my form tutor and the Head of Sixth Form at my school, as well as the advice of my mentors on the two mentoring programmes I was involved with, but the adults in my family were not convinced and tried to deter me from taking a year out. I often heard, “It will be a waste of time” “Gap years are too expensive” “Once you start working, you’ll get comfortable and won’t want to begin studying again” and “Can you not just go straight to university?”. I was in the small minority of students at my school who were thinking of pursuing a gap year and emboldened by some of the backlash I was getting with wanting to do a gap year, I was determined to ensure that my gap year was going to be the best and most productive 12 months before starting university. 

When A-Level results day arrived in August 2017, I called up my first-choice university and asked to defer my place and start in October 2018. Thankfully they said yes, and with that all sorted, I began my gap year in September 2017 with the goal of gaining independence and surpassing my predetermined capabilities. After researching different companies in Year 13, I was certain that I wanted to apply for an internship to kick off my gap year. I got a place on a gap year programme in the consulting sector through a charity and with the support of my mentor. It was a full-time, paid 8-month internship based in London, but due to the nature of the industry, I was placed on a project in Newcastle in my first few months at the firm. 

Despite my limited idea of what interns did, I was not asked to make tea or coffee once. I was treated just like a university graduate on a summer internship: same work responsibilities, the same expectations of professionalism and the same working hours. The internship allowed me to gain life experiences such as working away from home and networking within a large firm at the age of 18 and 19. I learned to be bold and not afraid of asking questions even if I was the youngest in the room. Being in Newcastle, away from home and out of my comfort zone, really allowed me to develop as an individual, and having a supportive team allowed me to understand my best qualities and how to use them. 

After speaking with other young people who were also on a gap year internship, we all agreed that working as part of our gap year allowed us to not only financially support ourselves but our families too – a bonus for students from low-income families who can save money before starting at university. After working and volunteering for nine months in the UK, I then embarked on a trip to Silicon Valley. I was an international work experience student with a US Government Agency in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I also used this opportunity to be a typical tourist, visiting Berkeley, Napa Valley, Monterey, The Salinas Valley and my favourite city in the Bay Area, Oakland. My gap year helped me gain a better understanding of my strengths, interests and passions before starting at university.

So what happened next?

After my gap year, I began studying at the University of Cambridge. Alongside my degree, I was involved with a wide variety of access and outreach work with highlights being my role as a Student Ambassador. During my 3 years at university, I was fortunate to have been the recipient of 5 awards which included being nationally recognised with the Outstanding Achievement Award at the House of Lords for the UK Student Social Mobility Awards and was selected as Powerful Media’s Top 100 Future Leaders. Most recently, I became as one of the global winners of the prestigious McKinsey & Company Achievement Award. Today, I’m the first Chair of the Career Ready Youth Advisory Board and spent the last two years as a member of The Sutton Trust Alumni Advisory Board, working closely with the trust to advise on their social mobility work and to develop ways to support the 50,000-strong Sutton Trust alumni community. I’ve closely mentored 50 young people with their application to university and specifically to Oxbridge. 

There’s a great quote from Marian Wright Edelman, the African-American Writer, who says: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Seeing people from a similar background to you, whether that be geographically, culturally, or in any other way, makes you feel much more comfortable and able to achieve more. I believe there’s a lot of power in sharing your story as you never know who you are inspiring along the way. I’ve spoken to hundreds and thousands of students in schools and universities across the UK and the response has always been overwhelming. Students send messages to me on social media saying how impactful it is to have a positive role model from a similar background to them. My gap year sparked my interest in education and youth advocacy and ultimately rigorously pursue and sustain these passion projects with great enthusiasm and energy over the years.

I believe all of these experiences and the diverse range of people I met on my gap year, gave me a competitive edge when I began applying for various personal and professional development opportunities during my time at university. Years later I can confidently say that going against the grain and pursuing a different path by taking a gap year was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It was a catalyst that made all the difference to significantly developing both my personal and professional life.

For me, my gap year was not a ‘year out’, but rather a ‘year in’. It was a chance for me to truly understand the importance of having a diverse support system, the beauty that is travelling, the power of networking and being open-minded and optimistic in all your life pursuits. Without my gap year, I wouldn’t have had the time to think and redirect my ambitions and my goals. I gained an understanding of how to make the most out of university and avoid some common mistakes by gaining advice from university graduates whilst working alongside them.

If you do decide to take a gap year or know someone who is considering it, make sure that you make the most of the opportunities available to you. Here are some resources you may find useful in supporting you on this journey:

‘Should I Take A Gap Year’ YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTUpT-RNmJM&t=981s





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