Hello, I’m Victoria Ayodeji. I’m a BA Geography graduate from the University of Cambridge.
I decided to take a gap year before starting university. In this blog post, I’ll be talking about my experience of taking a year out after finishing my A levels, and what I learnt from it before starting at university. Read on to see why I decided to take a gap year and what I gained from the experience.
A gap year isn’t just an opportunity to ‘find yourself’, it can also be a great time to think about what it is you really want to do with your future, develop your skills, and earn some cash. Many people are choosing to use their gap year to gain valuable work experience in industries which interest them before deciding whether they want to head to university, do an apprenticeship, or get started on the career that most appeals to them. Gap years can also be great if you do better than expected in your A levels, because it gives you a chance to reapply to universities with more demanding requirements.
At the age of 18 I had to make many important decisions. In the space of the first few months of Year 13 I had to decide whether I was going to go to university. If so, what five universities would I apply to? Was I going to leave the comfort of my own home in East London, or move miles away? And of course, what university course would I pick? Many students think of taking a break or a ‘gap year’. Some decide to go on a long holiday with friends or family, and some even take part in a ‘voluntourism’ trip abroad, but I knew that neither of these options were long enough to fulfil my urge to travel and expand my horizons. For me, a year full of both personal and professional development seemed like the perfect thing to do straight after Year 13. So, in November 2016, alongside applying to university and preparing for my A levels, I began planning a gap year that I knew would be life changing. I was fortunate to have the support of my form tutor and the Head of Sixth Form at my state school in East London, as well as the advice of my mentors on the two mentoring programmes I was involved with, but the adults in my family were not convinced and tried to deter me from taking a year out. I often heard, “It will be a waste of time,” “Gap years are too expensive,” and “Can you not just go straight to university?”. With some of the backlash I was getting with wanting to do a gap year, I was determined my gap year was going to be the best and most productive 12-months before starting university.
When A level results day arrived in August 2017, I called up my first-choice university and asked to defer my place and start in October 2018. Thankfully they said yes, and with that all sorted, I began my gap year in September 2017. After researching different companies in Year 13, I was certain that I wanted to apply for an internship to kick off my gap year. With the support of my mentor, I obtained a place on a gap year programme in the consulting sector through a charity. It was a full-time, paid 8-month internship based in London, but due to the nature of the industry, I was placed on a project in Newcastle in my first few months at the firm. Despite my limited idea of what interns did, I was not asked to make tea or coffee once. I was treated just like a university graduate on a summer internship; same work responsibilities, same expectations of professionalism and the same working hours. The internship allowed me to gain life experiences such as working away from home and networking within a large firm at the age of 18 and 19. I learned to be bold and not afraid to ask questions even if I was the youngest in the room. Being in Newcastle, away from home and out of my comfort zone, really allowed me to develop as an individual, and having a supportive team allowed me to understand my best qualities and how to use them. After speaking with other young people who were also on an internship, we all agreed that working as part of our gap year allowed us to not only financially support ourselves but our families too – a bonus for students from low-income families who can save money before starting at university. After working and volunteering for nine months in the UK, I then embarked on a trip to Silicon Valley. I was an international work experience student with a US Government Agency in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I also used this opportunity to be a typical tourist, visiting Berkeley, Napa Valley, Monterey and my favourite city in the Bay Area, Oakland.
My gap year helped me gain a better understanding of my strengths, interests and passions before starting at university. Alongside my degree, I was involved with a wide variety of access and outreach work with highlights being my role as a CAMbassador (student ambassador at Cambridge Uni) and joining the Queens’ College JCR as the BAME Officer. During my 3 years at university, I was fortunate to have been the recipient of 5 awards. These included the Outstanding Achievement Award at the UK Student Social Mobility Awards and I was also selected as Powerful Media’s Top 100 Future Leaders. More recently, I became one of the global winners of the prestigious McKinsey & Company Achievement Award. Today, I’m the first Chair of the Career Ready Youth Advisory Board and one of the members of The Sutton Trust Alumni Advisory Board, working closely with the trust to advise on their social mobility work and to develop ways to support the 50,000-strong Sutton Trust alumni community. I’ve closely mentored 40 young people with their application to university, almost half of which have successfully applied to Oxbridge. There’s a great quote from Marian Wright Edelman, the African-American Writer, who says: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Seeing people from a similar background to you, whether that be geographically, culturally, or in any other way, makes you feel much more comfortable and able to achieve more. I believe there’s a lot of power in sharing your story as you never know who you are inspiring along the way. I’ve spoken to hundreds of students in schools across the UK and the response has always been overwhelming. Students send messages to me on social media saying how impactful it is to have a positive role model from a similar background to them.
I believe all these experiences and the diverse range of people I met on my gap year, gave me a competitive edge when I began applying for opportunities during my time at university. For me, my gap year was not a ‘year out’, but rather a ‘year in’. It was a chance for me to truly understand the importance of a diverse support network in both personal and professional development. Without my gap year, I wouldn’t have had the time to think and redirect my ambitions and my goals. I gained an understanding of how to make the most out of university and avoid some common mistakes by gaining advice from university graduates whilst working alongside them.
If you do decide to take a gap year, make sure that you make the most of opportunities available to you. Below are some resources you may find useful:
- To find out more about how you can plan a gap year visit ucas.com/alternatives/gap-year.
- InsideUni YouTube Live Gap Year Q & A with university students: https://www.insideuni.org/application-resources/video/how-to-make-the-most-of-your-gap-year/
- ‘Should I Take A Gap Year’ YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTUpT-RNmJM&t=981s
Victoria is an award-winning public speaker, educator, writer, and coach and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2021. As the first person from her secondary school to study at Cambridge she is very passionate about enacting social change through access to education and employment opportunities. She was the winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award and the Upreach Ten award at the 2019 UK Student Social Mobility Awards. Most recently, she was selected as one of the global winners of the McKinsey & Company Achievement Award.