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News > PGS > Zuhayr Shaik PGS

Zuhayr Shaik PGS

A gap year requires thought and careful planning to make it a success as we find out from Zuhayr who found himself taking an unplanned year out after his 'A' levels.
12 Jul 2023
Written by Zuhayr Shaik
Zuhayr Shaik
Zuhayr Shaik

Taking a gap year has been the best decision of my life.

If I start by talking about my story, my gap year wasn’t initially planned. I actually applied to study medicine last year, and after months and months of anxious waiting, I was ultimately unsuccessful in my applications. To begin with I felt rather disappointed and annoyed, but I’ve always been self-driven, and I knew that I wanted to take a gap year and re-apply. However, the big question for me was “What on earth do I do for a whole year?”

I spent some time doing some research, digging on different student forums and bingeing countless YouTube videos trying to find out what people tend to get up to on their gap year. And now as cheesy as it sounds, I quickly realised this year was a chance for me to write my own story and do exactly what I want. I grabbed the nearest bit of paper and scribbled down a list of goals for my year. I had quite an extensive list, but I distinctly remember my 3 big ones.

The main one, was of course, to get into uni. Not just to get into uni, but to study the course that I had wanted to do for years. The second goal was also a massive one for me - to save money. I’m lucky to have a big brother with first-hand experience as he went to university just a couple years ago and since then, he’s not stopped talking about how expensive things are and the importance of saving. And the third goal, was of course to get absolutely ripped and start going to the gym more!

I then made a roadmap for getting into med school – planning out my next steps to get as much done as early as possible. I got my dreaded UCAT exam out of the way in August, way before the October UCAS deadline. This gave me plenty of time to decide where I wanted to apply, and I slowly started to receive interview invites - eventually from all four of my choices. After completing my interviews, I started that all-too familiar yet uneasy wait to hear back. During this time, I kept myself super busy focusing on my second goal: saving money. I was working lots of extra shifts at my job as an optical assistant, using advanced scanning machines to help opticians diagnose eye conditions like glaucoma. I also approached my local hospital and gained a second job in the Endoscopy department, working and communicating with patients and members of a multi-disciplinary team. These experiences really helped me develop skills like practicing effective teamwork and being able to work under pressure - which are very important for medicine. At the same time, there was the bonus of earning money which would set me up well for next year.

Working towards my third goal, I got myself a membership for my local gym and pushed myself to go regularly, tracking my progress over months. I was working hard, but made sure that I did take time for myself, enjoying the gym and my hobby drumming, and just relaxing which I’ve found can sometimes be hard to do. On my days off, I visited many different cities across the UK, making loads of new friends while also making sure I never lost contact with the friends I had during Sixth Form. It goes without saying that maintaining a work-life balance is very important, and taking a year out, for me, has been perfect for this.

In terms of my application though, one by one, I started getting those dreaded emails from UCAS: “Hi Zuhayr, there's been an update to your UCAS application”. Thinking about how my last application went, I remember being extremely nervous signing into UCAS, messing up my login because I was shaking. However, this time around, there was a much happier ending. I went from four rejections last year to three offers and a waitlist, getting into both my first and second choices. I’m super happy with how it all turned out, and relieved that I didn’t give up on medicine and perhaps be stuck doing a degree that wasn’t my first choice. In terms of my plans for next year, I’m very excited to say I’ll be studying .....Medicine at Manchester and I can’t wait to get started!

But in terms of the big question: Would I recommend a gap year?

Of course I would!

Even if you know exactly which degree you want to do. A gap year is the perfect opportunity to focus on yourself and not have to worry about exams or grades or any of the rest of it. If you think about it, you’ve gone from primary school to SATs, to the 11+, secondary school, GCSEs, Sixth Form and then finally to 'A' levels. A year out can serve as a bit of a breather and a break from the stressful academic pipeline we’ve all been in. It’s also perfect for gaining more worldly knowledge too as you’re outside the bubble of school and Sixth Form. I found myself being much more independent, travelling further and managing finances myself. A gap year can also serve as a pause to think about if university is really what you want to do, rather than rushing into a course and then regretting it halfway through.

I know so many people that have gone to university and thought “I should’ve taken a year out”, but I’ve yet to hear of someone who has been on a gap year and regretted it.

There’s also much more time for introspection too, getting to know yourself better and spending time with your own thoughts, rather than thinking about your next exam you need to pass. I know for a fact that I’ve come out of this year as the best version of myself that I’ve ever been, and I’m excited to meet you at your best version as well, should you decide to take a gap year. Thank you for reading!

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