Mind the Gap

3:43pm Friday 26th August 2011

By Lydia Onyett

Students disappointed on Results Day may just have stumbled across the opportunity of a lifetime.

The dreaded day dawned. The sound of envelopes ripping in anticipation echoed across the country. Or so I imagined, from a different continent. And I fervently hope that the piercing notes of frantic paper-shredding that filled the streets of York were mostly followed by shouts of triumph as our city's A level candidates found their hard work rewarded with the grades they deserved.

Because no year has the pressure been higher. The full force of the government's shocking decision top treble university fees and saddle the nation's youth with unprecedented debts throughout the working lives most have yet to contemplate was finally felt last week.

Or so I'm guessing. Because last week's cohort were the final year group to avoid being saddled with such a burden. No doubt this year's Results Day rat race will have been even more desperate than usual as students struggled to avoid the distinctly guillotine-shaped cut-off point of September 2012. Sink or swim, many would have thought. Do or die.

But, for every delighted candidate (and truly, by the way, I wish you all the best, and advise that you go ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE NEAR any unidentified alcoholic beverage during Freshers' Week, because it probably has Pot Noodle in it), there will have been a disappointed one. And although you probably feel - and very justly at that - a degree of despondency as you stare down the barrel of the student debt gun, don't despair. For you may just have stumbled across the opportunity of a lifetime.

For you've been given a whole year to fill with whatever you want, however you want. And I can think of nothing more exciting for any 18/19/20-something. I write this, as you may know, from a Kenyan internet cafe thousands of miles away. And had to cram this trip into a summer vacation because I was too timid to take a gap year. So I can't emphasise enough what an amazing chance a year out is, having opted for the road more travelled two years ago and, I now realise, hugely missed out.

Not only is travelling to a far-flung part of the world just what the doctor ordered to put exam stresses back into perspective, but you'll learn just as much as you would in a university first year. You'll meet life-changing people. And you might even get a bloody good tan.

As for the fees - well. I'm more than aware that I'm one of the fish to have escaped Cameron's net, but I have hope it won't prove apocalyptically terrible for you. They say the chunk unceremoniously lopped off your future pay-slips won't be too painful. You'll just be paying it for longer. And the whole game will most likely change because everyone will be in the same boat. And let's not forget that you'll have a year of adventure, travel and experience behind you that will, I promise you now, turn those soon-to-be second years a pleasant shade of green.

Get online. Get planning. Get a job. Or see the world. Do charity work. Finally read War and Peace (I know I haven't). Or learn a language. A musical instrument. Ballroom dancing. Or throw caution into the wind and do all of it. That's what being young's for, as older generations always tell us. So forgive them any previous unsought pearls of wisdom, because this time they're absolutely right.

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