Bad exam results? Then pack a rucksack

And even if you miss this year's scramble for the last fee-free university places, a gap year can still be cost-effective, discovers Gareth Lloyd

Ben Avison failed to get the place he wanted studying English at Edinburgh University. Despondent, he deferred applying for a year and found a temporary job. The pounds 2,000 he saved paid for a three-month tour of the US and Mexico with two friends. "I was at a bit of a loose end when I first got my results, but deciding on the trip to America was one of the best decisions I ever made," he says.

"Thinking about the people we met and the adventures we had, even the bad ones, always brings a smile to my face. Looking back, taking a breather from education was a wise move. I felt refreshed and ready for the challenge, although admittedly I've been struck with wanderlust ever since."

Next Thursday thousands of 18-year-olds will receive their A-level results. Those who don't make their grades and apply through clearing will find themselves up against as many as 80,000 extra applicants, rushing to qualify for the last fee-free year of higher education. Many, like Ben, will end up with a spare 12 months on their hands. For these people there is always the prospect of taking a gap year and travelling, along with many of the 20,000 others who have deferred entry until 1998.

After receiving her results, Rhiannon Batton found herself over-qualified for the places she had applied to. "Taking a year out allows you to better tailor your application simply because you know your results," she says. "I'd always had this image of South America as this exotic and mysterious place. My gap year gave me the chance to find out."

Despite spending her birthday in the freezer room of a vineyard in Chile, she was not disappointed. "After a spell working in Santiago, just for the experience, I spent three months back-packing through Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, visiting Lake Titicaca, desert ghost towns and even a witches' market. Travel gave me something in common with the people I became friends with in university. Somehow we were a bit different," she says.

Indeed, the increasing popularity of the gap year has made travel into a valuable conversational currency on campus. You and your new-found friends will inevitably end up in the small hours amazing (or boring) each other with stories of your exploits, whether they be shark encounters while scuba-diving in the Philippines, drug raids by the Goan police, or the frustrations of trying to buy a train ticket in Hohhot.

Some people mix work and travel, which is a solution if money is a problem. Being based in one place also provides an opportunity to become more familiar with local people, their culture and environment. Catherine Murch organised a gap year with the charitable organisation School Partnership Worldwide. "I spent nine months in Africa, seven teaching in a remote rural area in northern Tanzania and the balance travelling to places such as Lake Malawi and Zimbabwe - for some white water rafting."

However, she adds: "It is important to be committed to a project once you've agreed to it. We were given pounds 1,000 to build and stock a library for the local people, which we did. Me and another guy, Jerry, were the only two westerners for miles. At times it was hard. The work was frustrating and it could be lonely, though on the whole it was brilliant. It was the most memorable experience of my life."

And a final thought, if on Thursday your grades leave you howling. A recent survey of employers by the Royal Mail showed 87 per cent believe taking a year off for travel would make better staff. A gap year may turn out to be the best career move you ever make.

FACT FILE

Further reading The Gap Year Guide Book 1997-98 (Peridot Press, pounds 7.95) is an absolute must. It is packed with information on how to apply for deferred entry and lists of voluntary work organisations. Also useful is Planning Your Gap Year by Mark Hempshell (How To Books, pounds 8.99), which tells you how to have a good time while working, studying or travelling. The Royal Mail has a brochure which contains some useful hints and tips. It is available free from: Royal Mail, Gap Year Guide, 22 Endell Street, London WC2.

Work Ideas

An inexpensive option is the kibbutz, a communal rural settlement in Israel, where workers receive accommodation, food and pocket money. For details contact Kibbutz Volunteers, tel 0181 458 9235. For the more adventurous there is Work Your Way Around the World by Susan Griffith (Vacation Work, pounds 9.99). This book has travel information and job details for many countries. If you fancy an experience similar to Catherine Murch's, contact School Partnership Worldwide, tel 0171 976 8070. If you would prefer an expedition to voluntary work, call Raleigh International on 0171 371 8585

Web pages

A good place to start a search of the Internet is the page produced by Oundle School, Peterborough. You can link up with more than 40 relevant organisations including au pair agencies and charitable voluntary groups. Contact: http://box.argonet.co.uk/users/

oundlesch/abroa.html for further details.

Flights

Cheap flights are available from: STA Travel, tel 0171 361 6262; Trailfinders, tel 0171 938 3366; and Campus Travel, tel 0171 730 3402. As well as organising tickets, these can offer good advice and discounts to student travellers.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own