Great A-level results
While most people panic that they haven't got the grades they need for uni, there are the lucky few who do better than expected. 19-year-old Rachel Parker is one of them. Her brilliant grades gave her the confidence to change her plans and take a year off.
Making the decision
I had a place to read English Literature at Cardiff uni but dropped out just before term started. I realised that I didn't have to keep studying a subject I wasn't interested in and I had also done better in my A-levels than predicted, so I decided to re-apply to university the following year.
I worked as an administrative assistant and waitressed with an events catering company at evenings and weekends so that I could save to volunteer with Trekforce Expeditions on a two-month rainforest conservation expedition in the jungles of Belize.
"I really think my gap year was the best thing that I could have done before going to university. I've never been so happy or content."
Volunteering in Belize
I was lucky enough to be on a fantastic project with great people - we spent our two months playing 'Indiana Jones', clearing and mapping Mayan ruins in the jungle and building a palapa hut and boardwalk to make the area more accessible. I also climbed Victoria Peak for a week, which in retrospect was awesome and probably the best thing I've ever forced myself to do, but at the time was pretty painful.
After my volunteering placement I went travelling in Belize and Guatemala and learned to dive. Since I've come home I've been working to save up to go travelling again during my university holidays and I'll be going to France with some of the people I met on the project.
The benefits of taking a gap year
I really think my gap year was the best thing that I could have done before going to university. I've never been so happy or content, I've become much more confident and suddenly have twice as many friends as before. I don't understand now why most people don't take this opportunity to go and learn about other cultures and visit beautiful places before they get caught into the structure of society with a job and family commitments. I've probably become the cliché gap year student, but people who don't do it are missing out!