Going straight on to university after studying A levels is a natural step for many. It keeps the academic momentum going, and there is much excitement to see what the next phase of education has in store. However, for some students, a gap year is necessary to allow them the breathing room to think about their next steps. One such student is Danielle Bernard-DeShong.
Danielle joined Ashbourne in 2014, after completing her GCSEs at St Edmund’s College in Hertfordshire. Although she did well, Danielle readily admits that she didn’t push herself when studying for her GCSEs, and didn’t take academia particularly seriously at the time due to not being entirely happy in her environment. It was a stern word from her mother that persuaded her to ‘knuckle down’ and take a different approach to her A levels.
With impressive GCSE results and an outstanding drama audition, Danielle received a scholarship to study at Ashbourne. Initially interested in working towards either a law or psychology degree, Danielle gravitated towards the sciences, and went on to choose A level biology, chemistry and maths, with AS drama. Though the latter may seem like an odd choice, Danielle credits drama as being one of the things that gave her the confidence to tackle her nerve wrecking university university interviews.
Ashbourne proved to be just the environment that Danielle needed to excel in her studies, and she gained exceptional results in her first year. Performance maintained, she would be more than on track to study her chosen subject at university; which at the time, was biochemistry.
It was in April 2016, just a few months before her final exams, that Danielle’s focus changed. Personal experiences led her to think more about a career in medicine, but she was aware she would need to put in extra work to achieve the required grades.
Head of the Ashbourne Medical School Programme, Amy Youngman, is someone Danielle credits highly for supporting her decision, and helping her to achieve her grades. Amy’s additional help with interview preparation and personal statement guidance proved invaluable to Danielle, and for that, she is eternally grateful.
Danielle initially had her heart set on UCL, which is where she applied to study biochemistry. When it was decided that she would be applying for medicine instead, her priorities changed. She recalls “When it came to medicine, I did have to play to my strengths in terms of my application”. It was also very important to Danielle to study in a city that was diverse and accessible, resulting in her top choices being Manchester, Queen Mary and Kings.
Results day arrived, and Danielle’s hard work had most certainly paid off. She received As in biology, chemistry and maths, and could finally set her sights on applying for medicine. To go through the process however, Danielle would need to take a gap year; with no firm plans, it was an idea that she welcomed.
A few months on, and though she needed to take the time out for her application, Danielle firmly believes her gap year to be one of the best decisions she could have made. “I’ve been working, and it’s been a great experience for me to not only get used to work life and becoming more independent, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself, saving and finance before starting university”. Danielle is setting off on a 3 month trip around Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and is proud to have funded the trip herself. “I feel I have matured a lot, and it has been valuable for me to learn more about life outside of the education system”.
Eventually faced with choosing between offers from Kings and Manchester, Danielle finally settled upon Kings. When she returns from her travels in the summer, she is looking forward to readying herself for her first steps towards becoming a doctor.
So what advice would she give to anyone unsure about taking a gap year? “It’s a great opportunity to get a break from studying and education, and it’s made me even more excited about starting university. I’m prepared, ready and refreshed to go”. She added “It’s a great opportunity to learn about yourself, other people and the way that things work, as well as practice your social skills”.
Though Interested in pediatrics and hematology, Danielle hasn’t made a firm decision on what kind of doctor she would like to be. “I’m going into it with an open mind, because there will be lots of things that will completely new to me. I’m going to see what I like and be completely open to all of it. That’s what I am most excited about”.
If Danielle’s story proves anything, it’s that time out can be extremely valuable, and should be taken, if needed. It is also a testament to the outstanding level of support and guidance that we pride ourselves on here at Ashbourne. We’re incredibly proud to have helped a truly gifted student to realise her full potential, and we’re excited to see what she will do next. Good luck Danielle!