Ellie Foster-Lill was a pupil at The Mount for 14 years, and Deputy Head Girl in her final year. Graduating in July 2013, Ellie took a gap year before accepting a University. Now in the final half of her gap year, she speaks of the value of the experience thus far, on the eve of departing for five weeks' volunteer work in Fiji which will be followed shortly thereafter spending three months working in a Summer Camp in Canada helping children with learning differences.
What made you decide to take a gap year?
It was just practical, really. I took a gap year because I didn't know what to do at University. When I realised I had an entire year, I thought I wanted to do things that, realistically, I wouldn't have time to do again. A degree is at least three years, and after that you get into the real world and will need work experience, so you will join the workforce, and life seems to become more complicated from that point. So this was the right time, for me. When am I ever going to get out to these places again?
I'd heard about Camp America and was researching that when I came across Camp Canada. When I realised there was an opportunity to work at a camp for children with learning differences, I felt inspired that I could work with those who were going through what I had gone through. I was so pleased when my application was successful.
After that, I realised I had a long time left until summer in Canada, so I researched other things I could do in the meantime. I've enjoyed a variety of jobs since completing College II, but I wanted to do something more adventurous. I looked at what was available in the South Pacific and found a small company in Leeds that allows you to go and get inside a culture. You actually stay with a family in a village. Among other things, we will be building new sanitation systems – toilets, basically – for a village on an outlying island in Fiji. It's my way of immersing myself in everything, rather than just being a tourist, and at the same time feel like you are doing something worthwhile.
What have you decided to do after your gap year?
I've accepted a place to read Politics at Royal Holloway. I also had offers from Sheffield and Leeds. I chose Royal Holloway because the course looks amazing. When I was looking at the list of modules, I felt they were so interesting that I could barely choose between them. It's quite a new department, so they aren't resting on the laurels of a famous name. It's a small, beautiful campus. I'd been in contact with one of the senior lecturers there, and when I went to visit, that person remembered me and details of my gap year, and even asked how my job at Betty's was going, which made me feel like I wasn't just a number. I suppose, in that way, it's a bit like The Mount.
What advice would you give to College II girls looking now at their first year out of school?
Simply that if you are not 100% sure that you want to go to Uni this year, you don't have to. It took me a while to realise that. Come August, I will have had a year to find myself without the structure of the school. And now I know that in September I'm going to a course that I'm really passionate about in a University that I feel I chose for the right reasons.
You have a choice. If you are even wobbling, take a year out. Work, travel, volunteer so that you know you are ready for uni and a job. I've now gone from having no job to having had three jobs. The experience has been invaluable for me and I am so very excited about what is yet to come.
What makes The Mount special for you?
I was there for 14 years, so it was like a second home. I probably spent more time at The Mount than I did in my actual house. My classmates were like family. The Mount enabled me to become what I am and gave me the skills to go where I want to go in the future.
I think The Mount is special for its individuality, and for the inclusive aspects of the school. It's not focused only toward sports, or science, the arts or drama; but it encompasses all of those. Every skill is equally valued, which I think says a lot for the school.
- Ellie Foster Lill