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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Account Manager (Junior)

    Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

    Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Accountant,Reconciliations,Bristol,Bank,£260/day

    £200 - £260 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Accountant, Reconciliations, Bristo...

    Test Analyst

    £20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried