Above: Jumping teens celebrate A-level results by jumping.
Here’s what a lot of teachers/parents will tell you about A-levels: they are the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life. Should you achieve excellent marks, you’ll attend a prestigious university that will set you on a course towards great riches and personal fulfilment. But should you fail, life will be a succession of cascading disappointments, each more depressing and comical than the last. You might as well go cry in your room until your parents decide to kick you out the house, because there is absolutely zero hope for you.
Naturally, we’re exaggerating for the purpose of a punchy intro. However, as elderly scribes who are a whopping 10-12 years out of sixth form, the Ummahsonic team can safely say this: While A-levels are important, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t do as well as you hoped. Every year, newspapers are littered with photogenic young people jumping in unison to celebrate their straight As (see above pic). What they tend to cut from the front pages are the students experiencing an emotional breakdown because they didn’t make the grade.
If we could grab every one of those disconsolate teens and scream ‘EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK!’ we would. But we can’t. So instead, we’re going to give you a few tips on what to do once you’ve received your grades (WHICH COME OUT AUGUST 17), as well as a few reassuring slices of reality.
A Quick Warning Before We Start
Just a heads up – we’re not one of those GCSE/SATs/A-levels bitesize education sites that your teacher recommends during form time. We’re not gonna tell you how to log-on to the UCAS website or whether to say ‘hi’ ‘hello’ or ‘greetings good day madam’ when you ring the clearing hotline. We’re here for the practical tips, gang. As such, we’re breaking our advice down based on your grades. Starting with the boffins.
So You Totally Smashed It
Good for you! You opened your results and there were more *asterisks* than a Tour de France winners list. You’re going to your top choice university with top grades. You probably don’t really need our advice. All we can say is don’t get too complacent. The support systems you’ve had at college won’t exist at university, so get ready to manage your workload in a way you haven’t before. If you miss a deadline at school you’ll be hounded until it’s done. Miss a deadline at uni and you’ll be hounded by no one.
If you really, really smashed it, you might even want to go through something called adjustment. This is where your grades turn out to be good enough for a better course/uni than you originally applied for. If you’re one of these people, then please, you’re smart enough to google it yourself.
So You Did OK
If you’ve received your grades and you’re not sure if they’re good enough, call the uni. They may still accept you or offer you a place on a different course. If you ring and they give you a big fat ‘NO’, it’s probably because you didn’t greet them with ‘how do you do madam’ lol/jk but seriously you need to read on to our next category.
So You Totally Messed Up
Damn, bro. You’ve just been hit with a permanent case of academic sadface.jpg. You looked at your grades and they spelt DUDE. It’s time to throw in the towel, reject society and become one with the trash strewn along the nearest underpass. Nah. No. Never. Now is not the time to give up.
Let’s not kid. Getting poor grades in your A-levels can make your throat thicken and the tears flow, but it’s important to not totally lose it. If you still really want to go to uni, you have a number of options.
Get on the UCAS website (THIS LINK) and start looking for courses you like that may be available through clearing. If you see one that looks good, do some research into the university itself. Seems nice? Hop on the blower and get ready to sell yourself.
BUT WAIT. Be sure to ask a few of your own questions: How’s student life? What’s the accommodation like? What societies are there? Can you have fun in Freshers if you don’t drink? Etc. etc.
PS. Have a pen ready and your personal statement + UCAS number at hand. Even if you’re stressed, be polite. The person at the other end wants to help you.
2) Re-Sit Your Exams
Sometimes jumping on the first course you’re offered through clearing isn’t the best idea. If you’re dead set on the uni you didn’t get into this year, talk to your school about re-taking your exams. Maybe next year will be the one.
3) Gap Years / Apprenticeships / Work
If you didn’t get the grades and now you’re not sure if uni’s right for you, then you should consider one of the above options. Talk to your school and your parents. Alternatively, talk to people who have done the same. Sometimes discussing your options with a person who was once in your position is the best thing of all.
A Note on ‘Bad’ Universities
If you secure a place through clearing, or you’re only accepted to your second choice uni, you may end up studying in an institution that your grandma hasn’t heard of. Because the whole of British academia is riddled with snooty prejudices about higher education, it can make you feel pretty bad if your chosen uni isn’t one that appears on the jumpers tourists buy on Oxford Street.
But here’s the thing. University really is what you make of it. If you’re willing to study hard and apply your talents, you’ll probably have a successful, happy life whether you went to a top 3 or a top 300 school. Don’t get caught up in rankings. Take a university like London Metropolitan, for instance. It consistently ranks near the bottom of the league tables – probably because its alumni boasts notable failures like Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and prominent human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. You see what we’re getting at, yeah? Rankings: Bin ‘em.
Keep it in Perspective
Let’s think back to Ramadan. One of the most important aspects of the holy month is helping those who are less fortunate than us. The fasting and the humility and the charity may seem like ancient history if things don’t go to plan on the 17th, but you should still try to reflect on these qualities:
So if clearing, gap years or re-takes are your biggest worries, then you can probably count yourself lucky.
That may sound like rubbish when you’re dry heaving in the sports hall toilet, unsure about what to do next, but it’s true. Exams do not define you. You define you. Your whole life is ahead of you, full of choices and options and second chances, and dodgy grades are merely a bump in the road.