Posted: 27 April, 2020

Alumnae advice about ‘Life After Putney’

Alumnae, News, Sixth Form

We asked some recent leavers to share some of their top tips about gap years and starting university

Anoushka (class of 2019) is currently studying History of Art with Italian


How have you found the first two terms?

I really enjoy my course and never have a boring lesson. In order to achieve a good work-life balance, I combine course research and work with socialising as well as playing sports, eating good food and attending interesting events.

Many of the societies I joined at university were ones that were completely new to me. I found it useful to briefly research the clubs and societies that were on offer at Warwick, so I would recommend looking at what your university offers. You’ll then have a rough idea of what you might want to be doing and who you want to be seeing every week.

Read more of Anoushka’s advice below

I haven't studied the subject before, how could I prepare?

If you haven’t studied the subject before, ensure that you have not only read carefully which topics are taught on the university course, but also that you have done independent research and are able to express eloquently your interest for the subject.

If the subject is a language – like mine, I applied for History of Art with Italian, having only studied History of Art before – I would strongly recommend that you know roughly 50 phrases or words in that language, enough to hold a basic conversation. It is useful going into university with some background context and knowledge because it will put you slightly ahead within the class.

What can I do over the summer?

It would be a good idea to read throughout the summer, books which you enjoy (both academic and non-academic). This is because the reading load at university steps-up a level in comparison to school.

However, leave lots of time for relaxation and spending time with your family and close friends (as you will be away from them in term time).

I was one of only two girls from my year at school who went to the University of Warwick so, I am so glad that I spent time with friends throughout summer because during term time it’s harder to keep in contact with them.

Do you recommend any particular reading for History of Art?

I would say that it is useful having a balance of both a good foundation knowledge in the general History of Art, as well as well as having a handful of areas of specialism up your sleeve.

Build a knowledge base on the general history of art:

  • Reading a few chapters from the greats in art history is a good starting point. For me, these included: Giorgio Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’; E. H. Gombrich’s ‘The Story of Art’; and John Berger’s ‘The Ways of Seeing’. I was recommended these by my school History of Art tutor, but I also found them on Oxbridge and University of Warwick reading lists.

Find a specific area of interest:

  • Personally, after completing my EPQ, I had knowledge around Austrian and German portraiture of the 1890s-1910s.
  • Watching some documentaries or films about the art/architecture/historical period you have an interest in will expose you to the wider context of the day. BBC’s ‘Civilisations’ would be a good place to start because it covers both Eastern and Western art, as well as both the classical and modern worlds of art. From time to time, documentaries on specific artists get released, so I would recommend keeping an eye out for those too as they are both useful and enjoyable to watch.

Get a grasp of the artistic vocabulary and formal language that art historians use:

  • I would highly recommend reading parts of Penny Huntsman’s ‘Thinking About Art: A Thematic Guide to Art History’. She draws from a range of artistic periods and styles, so she makes comparing art genres clearer and more understandable to the reader.
  • Books on art history can get very technical and it would be pertinent to ensure you understand roughly how to interpret a work of art and how to go about observing and analysing artworks and edifices in general.

What else would you recommend for History of Art?

I also believe that podcasts are really useful for listening to when you are on the go but do not have a book at hand. They are more productive than listening to music on long journeys because you can learn and enjoy the content at the same time. My favourite podcasts for art include: Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Moral Maze – History and Culture’; The Tate’s series ‘The Art Of…; ‘In Our Time’; ‘Art Matters’; ‘ArtCurious’; and the University of Oxford’s History of Art lecture series.

Since leaving school and starting University, I believe that I have gained a greater sense of independence, maturity and life experience. You gain a great exposure to life and people after leaving School. You have to be more self-motivated and find your own sense of routine.

Anoushka (class of 2019)
History of Art with Italian, University of Warwick

Helene (class of 2019) is currently on a gap year before starting a Law degree


What would you recommend doing over your gap year, or even the summer?

  • Buy some books on the course you’re going to be studying at uni so you are more academically prepared when you start. For a Law degree, I recommend the A-Level book, OCR Law
  • Do something with your time, perhaps learn a skill, take an online course … anything really.
  • Relax a bit, because starting university will be busy.
  • But remember to step out of your comfort zone from time to time and try something new.

At University you have to be even more driven and self-motivating than you do at A-Level. Your timetable will likely have a lot fewer hours, and don’t have teachers regularly checking up on you, so it’s important that you choose a subject that you like enough to get you out of bed and raring to go every morning during term time!

Connie (class of 2019)
Music, University of Oxford

Helena (class of 2019) is currently studying History and Politics


What would you say your main advice to current pupils and alumnae would be?

I guess my main advice is to really engage with the experience. Whether that’s the work, tutors, the other students, the ‘student experience’, or the extracurricular.

Those are the memories you’ll look back on when you graduate (or in ‘lockdown’ because of a global crisis!).

Find more of Helena’s top tips below

What is your course like?

In terms of work, especially with something like an Oxford humanities degree, you’re writing at least two essays a week and probably reading at least a thousand pages (if not double that).

I think the most important thing is to stay on top of it!

How do you stay on top of your workload?

Getting things done as soon as possible, learning how to study pragmatically, and working systematically through my workload really helped me these last two terms.

If I set a routine and stick to a ‘working day’ where I get to the library at 9 and take a couple of breaks until 6, I’ve found I don’t have to work evenings and nights — but obviously everyone has a different body clock.

Getting the work you’re set in the vacation / before you start your course done is also important — funnily enough, in my text based course, those who’ve actually read the set texts tend to get better grades.

However, not everything has to be perfect. It’s okay if your footnotes are a bit irregular or your notes are a bit coffee-stained.

What do you think is the most important aspect of University?

Even though academic work is important, particularly somewhere like Oxford, I’d say the most important aspect of university is the experience created by the people and the place around you.

It’s important not to lock yourself away in the library all the time and let the world pass you by — there’s so much more to be involved in.

I’ve personally been very involved in the arts scene at Oxford, writing and directing a play, co-editing a magazine, submitting and performing my own writing, and since the quarantine was instated, starting Hypaethral Magazine, an online platform for students isolated from creative communities.

Getting involved with extracurricular activities is the best way to make friends — I found a group of close friends when we produced a college play together last term.

How have you found being away from home?

Being so independent and away from your family and old friends so suddenly might seem scary at first, but it’s a great opportunity to come into your own as a person. Whether that means learning to cook, taking up a sport or hobby, or being a bit more extroverted than usual, it’s a valuable chance to find out what you like doing and who you want to be.

Don’t worry about not meeting people. University is such a big place with a huge and diverse range of people, so you will be able to find your crowd. Plus, (at least at Oxford!) it’s such an intense experience that you form tight bonds really quickly.

Helena (class of 2019)
History and Politics, Oxford

Alexandra (class of 2018) took a working gap year before studying Economics


“Taking a working gap year was something that was quite uncommon during my time at Putney, especially in the world of finance, and so I would love to share my story to highlight the amazing opportunities that can arise from it.”


Read about Alexandra’s experience below

Read her monthlymotivation article here

Why did you choose to work in the City?

Back in February 2018, I had offers to study Chinese at university. However, one day I realised that this simply was not what I wanted to do anymore, and so I decided to take a working gap year to figure out my options.

I had always enjoyed Economics at school, and so I looked into jobs in the City, working in finance.

Where did you end up working?

I applied to Schroders, one of the UK’s leading investment managers, and managed to secure a place on their competitive year-long traineeship. I had to interview with the company in the midst of my A-Level exams, but receiving that job offer is a day I will never forget!

What was your role?

I had an exciting and stimulating role working in Corporate Communications, an amazing team and boss, and I was earning my first salary. Working in communications allows me to combine my three passions – design, economics and building relationships, and has provided me a lot of experience for when I enter the job market in 2022.

Do you have a particular gap year highlight?

At Schroders I had many opportunities to lead projects, receive training and see different parts of the business.

A highlight was definitely being chosen to write for MoneyLens (Schroders’ personal finance site for millennials). My article “My plan to become a financially independent ‘grown-up’ by 19 year-old me” was read over 10,000 times, and was one of the top five performing articles of the year on the site.

As part of the traineeship, I also worked hard for my Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Investment Foundations certificate, which is an industry recognised qualification.

What would you say you learnt during your gap year?

Working in the asset management industry has shown me how much I love Economics, and I began my degree in this at the University of Warwick in September 2019.

Hopefully, this will lead me back to a career in the exciting world of investment management.

Asa (class of 2016) is about to finish her degree in Civil Engineering


Looking ahead to applying for Graduate Roles, what would you suggest?

Write down key things you have done at University and keep a collection of projects you have done. Lots of potential employers will ask for examples of attributes or possible work you have done, so having this on hand is very useful.

Write a CV and generic cover letter. This way you can keep adding any experience to your CV as you go and tailor you cover letter to the company you’re applying too. This saves a lot of time and makes the entire process much less daunting!


Read more advice from Asa about University and applying for Graduate roles below

What about working over the summer holidays?

Don’t feel like you have a work every single summer, it is important to enjoy your time off. University summer holidays are long (three months!) so a couple of weeks working won’t take up lots of your time.

What about looking for internships?

Apply for as many internships as and when you can. I applied to my eventual employer four times before I was offered an internship.

Use your internship as an opportunity. Understand what working life is like and see if you want to work for that company. Most companies offer jobs off the back of internships (around 70%) so it’s good to get your foot in early.

How do you suggest preparing over the summer before University?

With your free summer before university starts, have a look at course reading lists for books they recommend. These can be found on university websites and are all quite similar!

Lots of universities have portals, so if you have any specific questions about university life and courses, there are dedicated people to help. For example, most Russel Groups are on the app “Unibuddy”.

How did you go about signing up to a sports club?

I was lucky coming from a sporting background so, in my case, joined the rowing club during preseason allowing me to visit the university beforehand but also meet some new people outside of my course. I’d strongly recommend contacting any sporting club you would want to be a part of before term starts.

Do you have any other tips?

Bring a doorstop! This shows that you are an open person and creates a welcoming atmosphere for you to meet your flat mates.

You will meet people from all walks of life, so be prepared and open to this change.

Studying an Engineering course, I found it particularly helpful to bring my A-Level Maths work with me as quite a lot of my first term was around similar things and having my notes saved me a lot of time. This is the same for any similar subject area.

University is a very different experience but ultimately you experience so much and meet a great range of people.

Asa (class of 2016)
Civil Engineering, Newcastle University

Lieze (class of 2014) has just finished her degree in Medicine


Reflecting back on your time at university, what would you share with those about to start?

Don’t be afraid to try out something new! One of my friends decided to give rock climbing a go and now she is planning on pursuing a career in Wilderness medicine.

There is a society for absolutely everything and everyone.


Read more top tips from Lieze below and

click here to read about her fourth year

What do you wish you'd known about studying medicine?

They say it’s like doing a whole A-level every two months, which sounds daunting but it’s very doable! You’re already used to a school day and that routine will continue at university.

Also, never be afraid to ask for help; the Faculty and staff are there to support you.

What advice would you give about Freshers Week?

Freshers can be daunting, please have confidence in yourself and don’t let yourself be pushed into doing things you don’t want to do.

Just because you drink doesn’t mean you have to drink; if you’ve decided it’s enough, it’s enough and that’s cool.

There are always older years who will support you if you feel pressurised.


Getting the work/life balance?

Work/life balance, the classic.

Stay on top of work. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the workload and social events at the start of uni, but a work routine can provide an anchor.

Clubs and Societies will keep you sane throughout your course and give you a well needed break from university work. Plus you’ll meet people outside your course and halls.


University are the best years of your life. They will fly by so enjoy it!

Lieze (class of 2014)
Medicine, Imperial College London

Laura (class of 2018) is currently studying Biotechnology


What do you recommend signing up to?

I cannot recommend joining a team sport enough. Personally it really important for my mental health.

This might not be for everyone, but given the range of disciplines available it’s definitely worth trying! Exercise is a wonderful distraction and meeting with people from outside your year and degree is great. Even finding a running group or a separate group of friends than those you study with to go to the gym is invaluable.


Read some more of Laura’s thoughts below

Do you recommend any reading?

For Life Sciences, pubmed is a great resource without being too overwhelming, and it will help discern if this is something you want to study more.

Finding the recommended reading lists or textbooks will also help.

What is your course like?

At Imperial, I think that the standard for my course is quite high. We often work quite long days and then have to write up labs, or write essays and revise in our own time. It’s worth mentioning that the workload jump from A-Level shouldn’t be underestimated.

Likewise, Biotechnology and Biochemistry requires essay writing (at least at Imperial it certainly does). As none of my A-levels were essay subjects, it was personally quite an adjustment!

What else would share about your experience so far?

It’s important learning how to live and work well with others. Everyone comes from their own ‘bubble’, but you will be surrounded by people from lots of different backgrounds.

I also think it’s hard not to compare yourself to others and suffer from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ when you get to University. It’s different to school, and people can go from being top of their class to finding themselves more in the middle, and that can be a challenge.

It's much easier to work on something you enjoy.

Laura (class of 2018)
Biotechnology, Imperial College London
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