Belfast Telegraph

Student gap years are improving prospects

by Natalie Irvine

With many university courses already packed to capacity hopes across the country are to be dashed this week as it is estimated 170,000 UK students receiving top A-level grades |will be unable to continue their education.

But for Bangor teenager Sean McLaughlin, his hopes have never been higher. Taking a step back from the university ‘rat race’, he will be jetting off to Ecuador’s capital Quito, and volunteering as a teacher in an impoverished school.

Sean, who will be receiving his A-level results this week, said: “I feel taking a gap year to |do something like this is only going to improve my chances |of getting into university, not deter them.

“Under the current UCAS system, it appears a lot of universities are less likely to accept you when your grades are unknown and only predicted,” he said.

He told of a girl from his school who was predicted grades good enough for medicine but was turned down. Achieving the results and applying for the same course the following year, she was accepted into Oxford Medical school, “primarily for no other reason than the grades were already there for them to see — it seems to work”, he said.

“It’s absolutely abysmal for the Government to make their cutbacks in higher education. Students didn’t cause this global financial crisis, the fat cat bankers did.

“But I have to set that aside, and remember that with my A-levels, I just jumped in and did all I could. I can only do my best and hope for the best.”

Paul Rompani, chief executive officer of LGV, said: “A gap year spent volunteering overseas ticks a lot of boxes on a CV for university application. But whether it teaches the volunteer to appreciate the value of education, develop a sense of independence, or build self confidence, it is what the volunteer takes away from the experience personally that makes it good preparation for university and later life.

“The high standard of exam results, combined with the recession's effect on the job market and stiffer competition for university places, has led many students to believe that a gap year is a great opportunity to improve their employability or university choices.”

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