Gap Years – A Vetty Perspective

Anyone who has read my books will know that I took a Gap Year before starting vet school in Bristol and absolutely loved it. In fact I would go so far as to say it was one of the most important years of my life in terms of preparing me well for life away from home as a confident, self-reliant student whilst at university. I had, however, been set to go straight from A-levels into the vet course but when results day came around I suddenly had this overwhelming sense of needing to press the pause button and just take a breath for a bit before diving head first into several years of intense training and a major life change.

Thankfully, Bristol was open to the idea of me deferring – in large part due to having been oversubscribed that year from what I understand – and so I had the green light to go off and fill a year before taking up my (now confirmed, phew!) place the following Autumn.

So….. what to do? I had been so used to having a structure to my days and a firm, fixed goal in mind – do well in exams, get grades, go to vet school – and yet now I had a blank slate on which to create something. Where on earth do you start?! I had initially advised the university that I intended to spend the year working, primarily in order to save money to pay for what I knew was going to be a very expensive stage in my young life, and complete some more work experience, perhaps somewhere overseas. Other than that basic ‘plan,’ if indeed that’s what you could call it, I was clueless.

Where to Start?

When contemplating the unknown it’s never a bad idea to do some reading and see what others who have trodden a similar path before you did and look for inspiration from them. I guess that’s what you are doing when you read Vet School, for example. So, a trip to the library and a pile of ‘Gap Year’ titles was the result. This was, however, all done against the backdrop of finding a job as I knew that whatever I decided to do I would need some dosh. Agency sign-up complete. Rather dull but regular office temping job secured. Now time to do some dreaming and planning.

What to do?

It quickly became apparent to me that the idea of spending an entire year just working for the sake of saving was about as appealing as documenting paint drying and I started to get those classic twinges that come with the travel bug. I had always enjoyed seeing new places but until then my experiences were very very limited indeed. I had never really traveled properly or been out of Europe, unless you count my time as a foetus in Florida or my first 3-4 years in South Africa, of which all I can really recall is hiding out in a large laundry basket (odd what you remember!). As such, the world very much was there to be explored. But where should I go? What should I do? Should I be going off and engaging in some selfless charitable work? I quickly decided that the cost alone of signing up for some of the expeditions on offer was prohibitive and would only have enabled me to spend a very short time ‘traveling.’ Well, I knew I wanted adventure and I was sensible enough to realise that chucking myself in at the very deep end of the global traveler experience might have been a little much. My dad had, for a period in his hairier days, spent time living and working in New Zealand and so I had always been a little intrigued by the land of the long white cloud. A little research later and it was confirmed – New Zealand was perfect!

It was English speaking, which as a first time traveler made me feel a little more confident, far away so as to feel like I really was going on a huge adventure, and had so many options for doing crazy, nutty, adrenaline-fueled activities that it was as if it had been designed as an adventure playground. I had always wanted to try skydiving and bungy jumping and skiing, and all of the other such sports that Kiwis just get to do almost as a matter of normal life. With the where confirmed, I then did some more research and discovered that you could apply for a working holiday visa for a year. Perfect! Adventure that was going to pay for itself. Rather than jump on a plane myself and jet off into the unknown I did, again, think somewhat sensibly and found out about an organisation called BUNAC, who ran trips out to various parts of the world, including New Zealand. The advantage of booking through them was that they helped with every aspect of putting the trip together, from the important work visa, to booking flights. The most important reason, however, for electing to go through an organisation rather than be all independent was that a) I got to travel out to New Zealand with a diverse group of like-minded individuals from all over the UK, providing not only some semblance of reassurance – remember, I was a fresh faced naive wee young thing from Norfolk, UK – and a great social circle from the get-go. Meeting so many interesting and varied characters at the very start of the adventure was a great introduction to the experience of truly traveling and being somewhere new and embracing the rich experiences on offer – much like starting university where meeting and getting to know new and unknown people is so vitally important. The other advantage of traveling with an organisation was that I had a known support network in place once in New Zealand. Although my time in the country was ultimately very independent and I soon headed off on my own adventures, I knew that should things go awry then I had the backup of a team of professionals in the UK and Auckland in New Zealand. The other advantage was that I often ended up bumping into many of my original ‘BUNAC buddies’ during my travels round the country, which was lovely.

I guess the take-home message here is to a) have some idea of what you might like to do during a Gap Year – is there anything you’ve always wanted to do? Anywhere you’ve always wanted to visit? A Gap Year is the perfect time to indulge in such dream activities. However, the other thing to try and remember is to b) keep an open mind – do some research, talk to people who have had Gap Years and this way you’ll be surprised at how much inspiration and how many ideas you can generate that you wouldn’t originally have come up with. A Gap Year is, ultimately, a very personal experience and it is very much your blank slate on which to etch on to. Of course, if you’re planning on taking a Gap Year in order to resit exams or apply/ re-apply to vet school then there are some restrictions. Having said that, it is still a great chance to organise something unique, perhaps a “golden ticket” work experience placement.

Deferred Entry

As I mentioned, I had intended to enter vet school straight after my A-levels and so I guess I ended up deferring by rather unorthodox methods. I think the chances of being able to do the same are slim and if you apply to go this year then I daresay you will be expected to turn up this year. The options when it comes to deferred entry are therefore two-fold:

1. Apply for deferred entry – some vet schools will consider applications for deferred entry, the advantage being that you have an offer confirmed and can head off into your Gap Year safe in the knowledge that you have a place at vet school to come back to. Not all do so it is worth checking the latest applications info on each vet schools’ website to see if they clearly state their position on deferment.

2. Take a Gap Year and apply during it – after getting your results you could then take those stellar grades and submit an application for the following year’s intake. Obviously you would then need to be on hand to attend interviews and deal with any other associated administration, such as work experience questionnaires and university accommodation, and finance matters, but there would likely be more than enough time and opportunity – especially once final offers have been made – to indulge in some great Gap Year activities.

Include in your application/ Personal Statement?

I am asked often whether students should mention their Gap Year plans in their application personal statements or not, and my answer is “it depends.” If you have something firmly planned and confirmed, and it is of relevance to your vet school application then absolutely include it. The key with personal statements is reflection and illustrating your suitable and favourable qualities for vet schools so if you have organised a trip to go off and do some amazing experience somewhere, not even necessarily animal-related, then mention it and say what it shows about you (eg adventurous, determined, charitable, eager to educate etc etc). Simply stating that you are heading off to kayak the Zambezi without any further explanation does nothing really for your application, even though on the face of it is awesome. If you don’t have any plans for a Gap Year or they’re just unconfirmed ideas at the moment then I would pause before writing anything. Remember that it is easy to say what you’re going to do – for example, I am “going to” complete an Ironman next year – but universities are only really interested at the end of the day in what you have done as this is all they can realistically and fairly assess candidates on the basis of.

What are you up to? Any ideas?

What ideas have you got for an amazing Gap Year? Share your ideas and plans here or on the Facebook page so that others can feel inspired. Some ideas that I can think of to get you started include:

  • go to ‘Safari School’ in South Africa
  • work on a ranch in the USA
  • spend a year on a working holiday in Australia and New Zealand
  • learn to dive and volunteer at a small animal clinic in Thailand
  • build a school in Africa
  • teach English in Peru

The options are endless…..!

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