Photography courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection
When it came to picking up my A-level results, I was petrified. I had already flopped and subsequently dropped an AS level, and my predicted grades weren’t the best. After months of Red Bull riddled revision days and difficulties with biased teachers, on top of my undiagnosed dyslexia, getting into my chosen university felt like running up a downwards escalator.
A-level results day was an absolute disaster for me. I didn’t get the grades I wanted, I didn’t get into my first choice university, and I most certainly didn’t get to study what I thought I wanted to. Whilst my peers were ripping open envelopes stuffed full of straight A*s and going to Oxbridge, I hadn’t gotten a place in my first choice university and was starting to contemplate what my future was now going to look like. It’s been seven years since the day that changed the trajectory of my life – whilst I’ll never forget how down those results got me, especially considering the endless hours of work I put in, If I had got my predicted grades, I don’t think I would have got where I have today.
After some crying, and setting aside some additional time to feel unbelievably sorry for myself, I decided not to go through clearing (a UCAS service that lets universities fill spaces on courses that aren’t full). Instead, I took my chances and accepted my second choice at a university in mid-Wales – a part of the UK I had never stepped foot in at the time of applying to universities. And thanks to the very middle of the road grades I was getting in English Literature in Sixth Form, I had been too scared to admit to myself that I wanted to study creative writing, let alone be a writer. Nonetheless, I chose English Literature And Creative Writing as my second choice, which – due to not getting the grades I’d hoped for – I went on to study. More than a little unsure about what lay ahead, I decided to just enjoy the rest of the summer; I went to a music festival with my mates and then packed up and moved to Wales.
At 25, my A-levels feel like a weird distant memory, something that I’m rarely reminded of other than on results day. And as journalist Sophie Gallagher put it on Twitter: “Hey kids!!! It doesn’t matter what A-level results you get today because in ten years time the only thing you’ll actually care about is the suction quality on your new hoover.” So if you too didn’t get into the university you wanted to, or you are considering not going at all, or perhaps you’re just feeling a little down and lost, here are some practical steps from someone who didn’t get the A-level results they wanted:
Don’t shoulda coulda woulda
It’s easy to think your future prospects are now unstable because you didn’t get the grades that you thought you would. I spent the first few days thinking about what my life would be like if I had worked harder, or if teachers liked me more, or if I’d been given unconditional offers. There’s no point. Don’t beat yourself up over what’s already happened. Take some time to feel sad and upset that is only natural, but now it’s about thinking forward.
Get a backup plan in action
Things didn’t go the way you hoped, but it’s time to get your backup plan in place. What do you want to do next? Maybe it’s a case of redoing your A-levels or taking a year out to evaluate what you really want to do next. Perhaps university isn’t for you, maybe it’s time to look into apprenticeships. Perhaps it’s a case of going through clearing or going with your second choice university instead. Whatever it is, make sure you have a little backup plan in place. You’re now in a unique position to take a step back and really think about what it is that you want.
Don’t compare yourself to your peers
It’s totally normal to be upset, or even jealous hearing your friends and peers talking about their amazing results and getting into their dream universities. I know its a challenge, but try not to compare yourself to anyone else, you’re all on your own journeys through life. You worked hard too, A-levels are really difficult. In all honesty, I found them more challenging than university. So concentrate on watering your own garden, and watch your flowers grow. If it helps, log off of social media for a bit.
Getting into the best university isn’t the be-all and end-all
I didn’t go to Oxbridge, I didn’t go to a Russell Group university, I didn’t even go to one of the top 60 best universities in the country. But I had the best time. I still did well in university, I made some incredible friends and learned so much about myself. After I graduated, I went travelling and landed a dream internship. You can gain life skills and a first-class degree regardless of what university you went to. At the end of the day, I’ve worked alongside Oxbridge and Russell Group graduates, so your university doesn’t always predict your success or future career.
There’s way more to life than uni
University is expensive, with tuition fees currently at £9,000 a year, you’ll leave with a lot of debt. Academia is not for everyone, so although there may be pressure from family and friends, it’s your choice and it’s totally okay to not attend university. There are so many other routes into work and careers: apprenticeships, traineeships, and entry-level jobs. The idea that university will somehow make your life better and your career options more viable simply isn’t the case.