Middle Thursday in August, big day for 17/18 year olds, their families and teachers. A Level and BTec results out and some decisions about the steps after school or college. Here is a bit of advice from my 20 years as a head of sixth form
Don’t muddle up two pieces of news: Results and Next Steps
1 Well done on your results, even if you wished you had worked harder or had more luck, you have your results. Celebrate the success, even if, or especially if you found it hard and persevered, you got them.
2 The more complicated bit is what you do next and for that I think there are three likely outcomes:
a) You got your dream
After all the UCAS stuff or maybe the searching for the right apprenticeship or even the world of employment, your grades opens that door of opportunity. Still some advice for you: if you are continuing in education you’ll need to carry on with more and improved versions of what got you to here. Ok you might be and should be excited about University or leaving home or having autonomy and independence. More thoughts about the opportunities of student life than the messy sinks of student accommodation. However you are off to study and so whatever you’ve been doing you’ll need to step it up. More reading, more organisation, more independent learning, more work and probably less feedback and support than school or college gave you. The latter matters, you need to be more of your own judge and set your own standards. I recall a good friend excitedly awaiting her first feedback on an essay which got a β+ ( that’s beta plus) and she asked her supervisor what that meant. ‘Well’ he said ‘its not as good as an α- ( alpha minus) but better than a β.’ She asked what she needed to do to improve he took the essay back and said ‘maybe work on the English’. For a young lady with full marks in AS modules for English she realised at that point she had to work out what learning meant in this new world. Vital to success here is to read, read, read and to discuss the standard of work with peers and those on your course but a bit older. Heck and start now, yes now, find a book or two on that dreaded reading list and….start…reading. My own two daughters got fed up with me saying “you are reading for a degree in” Of course the new world offers wonderful opportunities but the priority one is your learning because….that gets you to the next step….( but lets leave that for now).
Meanwhile if it is an apprenticeships or employment, get the details right..know when and where to start, what to wear and find out about expectations. Be prepared to throw yourself in, be polite, listen, ask questions if uncertain and speak to those who work close to you to ensure you do everything you can to get off to a good start too. Put all your energy in for the early days, be fresh and optimistic and make sure you learn what you have to do and do it with skill, if necessary with the same ingredients of hard work, perseverance and being part of a team.
b) You just miss your dream but get a healthy second
This is a bit tough, maybe you knew the first choice was a bit over ambitious and you are ok with second choice, maybe the HEI offers an alternative. However maybe you never thought second choice would become your next step. Make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for here. Did you visit the institution, was it a positive choice or one to get the form filled and get a sixth form tutor off your back? Well you can and should still celebrate those results BUT think carefully now. Think, research and write a few advantages and disadvantages down and talk, talk talk. Talk to peers, talk to family, talk to teachers or talk with local careers officers ( Futures in Nottingham) even talk to the Institution. Oh and I realise you hate talking , this isn’t email, text, ‘whatsapp’ territory this is picking a person to speak to…rest assured it will help, people like to help! Take a bit of time but clearing can be mad and busy and you will feel pressurised. Remember you are off to study for 3 or 4 years, you will be doing lots and lots of ( *subject X*) and there is a considerable financial investment from you – it might be a loan but it’s still a loan. You wouldnt buy an expensive new mobile on a quick whim and this is life enhancing, life changing or possibly totally wrong! Remember all the research you did for choice one, do it now to ensure you are making a good decision. If you are doing all this to please great Aunt Ethel and who keeps ringing to ask what you are doing next, just stop, tell her and yourself it’s not that easy and simple. Never make the decision to appease family or friends – they won’t be sat there as you wonder why on earth you ended up studying sand castle building at the University of Little Piddle in the Paddocks. If necessary visit the place, that is visit if you have not already visited, yes that’s right, even if you have a holiday job get some time off, surely you won’t sign up for big expense, big commitment and your next 3 years without doing that, surely! That’s like signing for a big mortgage on a house without seeing the property because you are staying home to watch “Cash in the attic”.
As one Dean of admissions told me ” I fear some students spend more time researching their post exam holiday in Ibiza than they do their future degree.” and the next day I was pulled out of a lesson by an urgent request from two A Level students arguing about which flat, in which island in Greece….you couldn’t make it up. A student who had a B in my subject (Chemistry) and an E in Maths and ICT, was refused his first choice of computing but offered Chemistry at the same University…”should I take it Mr Dexter?” Me “Do you want to study Chemistry for 3 years or still try to do software design?” Steve ” I honestly don’t really like Chemistry Sir”. QED. PS He now works in the creative IT industry.
Much the same applies to apprenticeships or employment…do your research especially if it’s a late change of plan. Be realistic, some apprenticeships are more competitive that HE places, get on that internet and get answers and do your research too.
c) You miss both plan A and B
It’s not the end of the world, not at all, it may feel like it but plenty of people have been exactly where you are just now. Ok so hold tight, first of all well done on those results, and you might need a good reflection on them. There shouldn’t really be any surprises, your teachers and you should have known quite closely how you were doing. You might have been very optimistic and thought you would do better but this is reality now.
Should I retake?
Rarely works in my view. It might if you had a critical incident, a family crisis coming up to exams, a serious health issue which is now resolved etc But the reality is that you are looking at doing a year of study that you struggled with for various reasons and staring at doing it again, with few peers and maybe not a full timetable. Evidence would suggest retreading isn’t as effective as moving on. You might even think about doing one subject again in the summer without attending school or College, you know study in my room stuff …don’t. It’s also a very competitive market in some areas, so if your offer was AAA for a competitive course and you got BBB, don’t assume that if you redo the offer of AAA still stands. You need to talk to the HEI urgently. Reflect on the situation this last two years on your learning, be honest, talk with staff and family and make a plan.
Should I take a gap year?
Some students think this option, especially made in a rush, allows for time to decide. How much time do you want? A year? Planned gap years with mixtures of work experience, earning money, travel, new experiences can all be helpful, though as above they need thinking about. Don’t deceive yourself, the gap year isn’t one big holiday, its work, new people, new experiences, lots of challenge. I really like gap years, I think students get more out of their University experience and are a little wiser, I worked as a lab technician in a gap year so I am a fan. However don’t think you can ring a local company and get a job for six months, or ring the Raleigh Trust and build a health centre in Mongolia…you can but it needs planning and often fund-raising too – it’s all about commitment. If you are serious then find people ( from your school or college or community) who have done the very project. And if you are serious, well you had started some plans anyway, hadn’t you?. Lastly think if you are deciding to reapply, just how that works if you are abroad, not just interviews but that research, how will it be done?
So you are saying I’m stuck?
Not at all, you have qualifications, maybe A Levels or BTecs or GCSEs. You now need a rethink and support. Think if you really want to study and continue education, more of the last two years, or do you want a change, an apprenticeship or employment or a different sort of degree, something more vocational than your choice of pure History? There is plenty of choice, arguably too much so get the pen and paper out and do those exercises school or College made you do. What are you good at, what do you like doing, what are your skills, what do you NOT want to do? Now talk to family, friends and professionals: teachers, tutors or take those notes to a careers meeting. Be patient and try to get it right but you are allowed to change your mind. Apparently around 40% of undergraduates try to change course and many drop out, so you are in good company.
Absolutely YES, it’s a challenging and busy time – getting ready to leave home will be frenetic with activity and fitting it in amongst farewells is fun but keep a focus and priority. Unsure if you are doing the right thing, talk ( sorry not email/text but TALK). Uncertain about options seek professional help – HE staff, Careers staff, possibly your own teachers and family and friends.
My best wishes whoever you are reader, and grab every opportunity by the horns, as sometimes they feel a bit like that but that too is your destiny.