So after the very useful poll I posted (thank you to all who voted and if you haven’t please still get involved!) I thought with this post I’d combine a uni guide with my own personal experience.
Last year I woke up on results day feeling pretty nervous, as you do. I had an offer to study English at Cambridge university and I needed an A*AA to secure my place. My back up choice was the University of York who also required three A’s.
However, without being big-headed (whenever my parents or friends say the classic ‘oh you’ll be fine, you always do well’ I always felt so exasperated) I had received four A grades at AS level and they were high A grades. Now I’m not saying this to show off – I’m trying to put my situation into context. I’d done the maths and realistically I only needed to get average C grades in all subjects to still get those sought-after A’s.
Yes a C is still a pass, so it’s not a walk in the park, BUT – it’s difficult to even articulate how much revision I’d done. It was a regimented routine of 7am wake ups, 9pm bed times with only pauses for food and toilet breaks, for about 3 months straight. I came home from school, I worked. I even worked on my birthday (okay I know that sounds ridiculously lame but in my defence it was the day before one of my exams so I had to…).
Anyway, long story short – despite my nervousness, I think somewhere deep down I knew I would get a university place, if anything it was what I deserved for the insane amount of work I’d done. My only worry was whether I’d secured an A* to get into Cambridge.
As it happened, my results morning did not go as planned. My school was good because it uploaded our grades online so you didn’t have to go into school surrounded by everyone and open the dreaded envelope. Whilst I was refreshing the page continually I had an email from my English teacher. It was addressed to the whole class and read: URGENT in the subject line. This didn’t sound good. I opened the email and it basically said that they had checked the results and they were quite unexpected so they had decided it was definitely a mistake and were looking into sorting it out straight away. I felt a bit uneasy – after all, I did English. But then they had used the reassuring word ‘mistake’ – a mistake could be rectified. But more than this, I had never received a ‘bad’ mark in my life – I think deep down I still felt safe.
What happened next was a bit of a whirlwind, albeit one that seemed to tortuously drag on, and I am going to summarise it bluntly. I got my grades – A*AB, so I was in a bit of a pickle. I spent the morning crying my eyes out panicking, the school reassured me they were getting an emergency remark and they were convinced it had been a mistake. That night everyone was going out to celebrate the end of school – nearly every friend I met asked excitedly what grades I’d got and which uni I was going to, it was like I’d been stabbed with a knife and someone was repeatedly turning it.
The results came back – not only did they not improve, some marks went even further down. If I sound dramatic (I know a B is still awesome) it’s because I’d got a B overall – my actual grade for that exam was a D – a fail, even though it was supposed to be my strong subject, the one that had won me a place at Cambridge. It was all very confusing. The school tried appealing but it came to nothing, time passed on and the school couldn’t afford to take it further. To put it lightly, I was devastated.
In the meantime, too much time had passed for me to even negotiate my A*AB with York’s AAA offer. The time had passed, my place had been filled. I had gone form virtually having a guaranteed place to having nowhere. And when I read that line back to me, it sounds as dramatic as I felt the situation was. Granted, I did have a right to feel a bit destroyed – it felt like all my friends were leaving, I hadn’t even considered a back up plan and more than that I was being forced to now pay £9000 for a result that no one could explain.
It was a difficult experience, but one which now, in hindsight, I am so grateful for. Whilst my friends breezed through to university I had to face this situation and in the process I developed as a person and greatly matured. So many teachers, parents and adults told me – you’ve dealt with this so well, I began to realise that dealing with the shock, stress and disappointment of it all was an achievement in itself.
After about a month of wallowing in self-pity, I pulled myself together. I found a full time job (yes it was in retail but I was working with loads of young people who were my age, so they replaced the gap that had formed since my friends had left). I considered my options – I had already begrudgingly decided to retake the one fatal English exam, but in the mean time I decided to go forward with History. (I’m going to post later in the week about what to do on results day if the same thing happens, so I’ll explain the decision behind my subject swap then). On my days off I re-wrote my personal statement and applied quickly and efficiently through UCAS. I spent more time actually considering the university process – I could speak to friends who were already there, and even more usefully, once I had my offers I could visit and stay with the friends who were at the uni’s I was considering.
It took a while but I realised being pessimistic and self-pitying doesn’t help anyone, it’s a waste of time. I opened my eyes and found other friends who were on gap years too, I just hadn’t paid them any attention whilst I was in my little uni bubble. We spent many fun hours in coffee shops planning what to do with our time and settled on the classic gap year plan to travel. I worked for 5 months, saved a load of money and then flew to Asia for 2 months of unforgettable fun. It flew by like a dream, and when I awoke to reality on my first day of university, the tables had turned – I wished I could have just another year off to live it all again.
In my time off I grew so much as a person. I learned how to save, how to cope with difficult situations independently and I understood a timeless lesson: when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.