Opportunities now open to all students

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Each year I speak at around 15 schools and FE colleges to students who are thinking of applying to higher education in the following year. My talk is all about the research that needs to be conducted, the deadlines that need to be observed and the principles that need to be followed if you are to have a successful time at university or college.

Each year I speak at around 15 schools and FE colleges to students who are thinking of applying to higher education in the following year. My talk is all about the research that needs to be conducted, the deadlines that need to be observed and the principles that need to be followed if you are to have a successful time at university or college.

Whenever I speak to an independent school, the first question always asked is about the gap year. What are the implications for the applications process and so on. When I speak to a school in the state sector the question is rarely asked, but, if it is, then it is referred to as either the "year off" or the "year out".

This suggests that it is the children of the better-off families who can consider a year out, and that those families such as my own, where my children received a magnificent education in a comprehensive, find it hard.

These days there are wonderful schemes which enable young people to take a year out to do something interesting, both paid or voluntary, which will prepare them for their university or college course when they get back.

It is essential that you check up with the university or college department to which you wish to apply and ask whether they would be happy for you to take a year out or not. There are some departments who prefer you to come straight from school; most admissions tutors however would be very happy to receive an application from a potential student who was doing something in an intervening year which would help on the course if accepted.

Indeed, the university to which my son applied almost insisted that he take a year out. He didn't, and graduated well. Nothing in life seems simple any more, but a constructive year out is a good policy to follow.

Fortunately, a year out is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, and the Year Out Group promotes excellent opportunities for young people. The group regularly has a stand at the UCAS conventions and UCAS publishes a 30-page booklet detailing many of the opportunities available.

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