5 Tips to Actually Complete Your Gold DofE

Emily Woodhouse Living Adventurously, Practical Advice

How to complete your Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award without letting it fall by the wayside… from someone whose almost did.

Gold DofE is a big undertaking. Some of the staggering 253,005 of young people starting the DofE scheme every year will complete Gold – but many give up and never finish. I was nearly one of them. Here’s my top five tips on how to make sure you get yours done before it’s too late!

1. Do It At School Or College

Real life gets in the way. I started my Gold DofE at Sixth Form and finished after university. That’s 5 years at least. But I did Bronze and Silver at school in only a year or so each. Why? Well Gold DofE necessarily takes longer. You need to do 12/12/6 months of each activity and 18 months if you’re a direct entrant. Really, this is just an excuse though.

As soon as you leave compulsory education, your world changes. Either your thrown into the world of work and your spare time halves, or you jump into higher education. If it’s not one of your top priorities, DofE will remain languishing at the bottom of your to-do list.

2. Think About Who’s Signing It Off

This was my biggest mistake. I’d just done the Introduction to DofE leaders’ course and been furnished with a huge list of all the acceptable activities. I quite like to do the unusual (have you noticed?) so I went down the list, looking for something a bit different.

I ended up doing gardening for my skill section.

This was a pretty fun idea to start with. I have a vegetable patch and documented it growing throughout the year. Plus I really like digging. The problem was signing it off. Unlike when I was a Brownie (yes, really!), it’s slightly unacceptable to get close family members to sign things off. Did I know any gardeners? Nope. Local gardening club? Gardening Centre? Allotment? Nope. Errrm…

It took me three years of university and a little bit of desperation to find a friend in the Conservation Society to read my book without laughing too hard…

3. Have A Residential In Mind

So many people do epic things for their Gold DofE residentials. The problem with so much choice is that you may never make a decision! I wanted to do Tall Ships. I wanted to do a bushcraft course, or something arty or adventurous… or maybe something abroad. But these cost time and money – things which I either didn’t have or couldn’t justify. And anyway, nothing was quite good enough.

Eventually, you just have to accept that something will do. If you can make it amazing, then good for you, but it’s okay to be mediocre. My residential was nice, but it wasn’t ground breaking. Luckily, they put an age limit on DofE so I was forced to make a choice before it was too late. Although really, I think surviving the first week of university should count as a Gold Residential…

4. Find Topics You Enjoy

Let’s talk a little about motivation. I see so many teenagers on their DofE expedition who have no interest in being there. They are predominantly there because “my parents made me”. You don’t get much choice on the expedition, but you have completely free reign on the other sections: skills, volunteering and sport. Please pick something you enjoy!

Gold DofE is an amazing opportunity to try out new things or develop things you already do. For me it was the excuse I needed to start volunteering – before then, I felt like I had to have a reason to tentatively send an email asking if I could help. Look what happened…

But that aside, you’re unlikely to finish something if you don’t enjoy it. At Gold level, you have to spend months and months on each section, so pick wisely to have a chance of finishing.

5. Stick With Your Group

This is a huge regret of mine. Your DofE group is big motivator for getting through it. If you’re all in it together, there is a sense of camaraderie. It’s most obvious on your expedition, when you’re all crawling through the mud together, but can extend to the meetings too.

Our group was never very close. We weren’t with a school or organisation and didn’t know each other from elsewhere. I’m not sure if anyone finished before university, but then I was a year older than most of my Gold group anyway. We completed in drips and drabs – for all I know some of them may have never finished. I haven’t seen them since.

A couple of months ago, I went to my Gold Award presentation at St James’ Palace in London (one day after the Tower Bridge attack). The most striking thing was that all the people who were there with their group were having a great time. They’d made it through together and now they could celebrate together. For us loners sitting at the back not knowing anyone, it fell a little flat.

I hope this helps some of you thinking about – or doing – your Gold DofE Award. What are you doing and how far through it are you?