I recently ran a workshop for a group of students during which they posed the question: “Do you think it’s best to go straight from school/college to drama school?” It’s a question that many of us will have pondered at one time or another and it’s not just specific to actor training. Obviously you can only do one or the other so it’s very difficult to give an objective answer. I went straight from sixth form to drama training and there I came into contact with people who had taken a variety of paths into university, so I am aware of the outcomes of some of those options.

In my opinion it’s a completely individual matter and there’s no definitive ‘best option’ or clear-cut answer, but there are a number of things which are important to consider. You need to ask yourself what level you’re at, how you would benefit from the advantages offered by both options, what the options are and the potential affect they will have on your chosen career.

I think there may be a tendency to be overly concerned with what industry professionals are ‘after’ and how they regard taking time out etc. While some of these concerns certainly need consideration when weighing up the options, I think it’s far more important to know what’s best for yourself first. It requires a certain amount of self-scrutiny rather than just what might look good on paper to a casting director.

I followed the latter train of thought, despite the fact I actually had no idea what these ‘industry professionals’ might be looking for. I assumed that I must do everything now, if not sooner, before actually considering the options available. I’ve recently begun to wonder if in my haste to get my education under my belt and get out into the big wide world I’ve actually missed some of the finer points and opportunities. I jumped straight into my training with little hesitation and it took me some time to realise that I was still very much in the school mentality of doing what was required to get the grades. From this perspective I do wonder if I would have taken a firmer hold of my own training had I taken some time out from being in the student role. For instance, now that I’m working for a living, I’m far more proactive and actually take greater interest in tasks required for the job and doing those extra little bits that make all the difference.

But it’s not just in terms of academic focus that I perhaps wasn’t as ready for university as I could have been. When looking at where to apply I didn’t ask the questions that I now think are necessary for making the best decisions. If you don’t ask questions you won’t really know what your options are and what’s going to suit you the best. This goes for Gap Year options too. I hadn’t even considered a Gap Year because to me it signified working my bottom off in a shop to save up to go travelling. I had no idea of the number of career-related options available, from year out drama organisations such as Stratford Year Out Drama Company to internship programmes and getting stuck in to the professional world itself. Perhaps if I’d realised these options existed I might have paused just long enough to consider them and actually ask what’s best for me. Having said all that, I didn’t let my education go to waste and I certainly wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing now if I hadn’t taken that route, so to all intents and purposes it wasn’t a bad decision at all.

I did notice that many of those students who had taken time out before cracking on with further training often had a more proactive approach and seemed to have a much firmer idea of what they wanted to take away from the course. Of course I’m just generalising and in actual fact there were many students who had gone straight from school who were incredibly driven and focused while some others who had taken time out seemed as lost as the rest of us.

So in essence my advice to the students at my workshop and to anyone else out there who is set on drama training but wonders if now is right, is: ask questions; speak to people, whether they be degree students, teachers or industry professionals and so on; gather as many options as you can; ask yourself honestly whether or not you will utilise a year out to its potential (i.e. not just dedicating yourself to completing World of Warcraft or coming top in a quiz about soap storylines) or if you will really hold the reins in your training.

So if you’re on the brink of deciding what to do at the end of your A Levels, Diploma etc then use and abuse all the resources you have to find the best option for you. You never know what you’ll find if you don’t ask questions! And if you’ve followed one of the many routes into further training it would be great to hear about your experiences and any advice you have for others looking at similar options.

Image by Year Out Drama Company, see more of their work here.