Education: Course guidance: The chance to try out a working life

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Candidate: Charlie Bertram, 19, Bicester, Oxon. Needed: 14 points/CDD for BA European Studies, Portsmouth Poly. Results: CEN. Decided to take a year off and reapply. Accepted place on BA European Studies at Bedford College of Higher Education, starting Sept 1992. Now: unemployed.

'I THOUGHT about a year off half-way through my A levels, because I wanted to get out of education for a bit and see what working life was like. So I didn't bother to go through clearing; I decided just to reapply.

'My plan for the year off was to travel and support myself by working. I started off inter-railing with a friend, but that lasted about two weeks. The trains were always full and the accommodation expensive.

'Then a friend of the family said he could fix me up with a job in a hotel in Switzerland. He went off saying he would be back in 10 days and that was the last we heard. I waited for about a month, which took me to about mid-November. Then I tried for jobs in ski resorts, but of course they all recruit in July and August. So then I started looking for a job locally. I've had a Saturday job in a bookshop and some temporary work with a removal firm.

'It was very demoralising. About Christmas I went through a bad phase when I thought a year off was a terrible idea. All my friends were enjoying student life, and there was me sat at home on the dole.

'But it also woke me up. I came out of school and thought I could just walk into a job, and when things started to go wrong I realised it needed work and planning. It's taught me to be realistic, not just about work or travelling but about everything.

'When I was reapplying for degree courses some tutors were sympathetic but they did make me feel it was my fault the year went wrong because I should have planned it. Bedford wasn't like that though. And although I'm worrying a bit about getting back to lectures and seminars and essays, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm off on 23 September, and it's the best thing that's happened to me all year.'

(Photograph omitted)