It’s almost A level results time, and I have an awful lot to say about that, but it could be summarised as you could not pay me enough to go through that shit again. Not millions. Not social media mogul numbers*. You. Could. Not. Pay. Me.
Now, I’m really not one for doling out advice. When the need presents itself, I like to be as vague and unhelpful as I can conceivably manage, because what the hell do I know? You’re really asking me what you’re doing wrong? Like, have you read my blog? But when it comes to you poor seventeen-year-olds, shackled to the UCAS conveyor belt your schools would like you to believe is the best and only way to plan your future, I have words of wisdom up to my eyeballs, so here are some things you should consider.
You’re a foetus.
There’s a high chance you’re not sure of your choices, but you’ve had to make some anyway. I wish someone had told me it was okay to be undecided. I wish someone had told me there was time. It only takes a few short years to be able to look back on your A levels and realise nothing was as dire as you thought it was, and all that pressure was artificial, and that it’s actually pretty hard to fuck up that badly when you’re seventeen.
Believe it or not, you DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO UNIVERSITY.
Your school is probably being judged on how many of its graduates get into great universities, and you have become a pawn of that system. Here’s the kicker though: if you go to university for you and you alone, and not to bolster your school’s reputation, then you can go whenever you want – there is no upper age limit on tuition fee loans in the UK. I cannot stress how confident I am of this next bit of advice: take a couple of years out. Not one year; that’ll barely get you out of the system for a couple of months before applications start again. Take some real time to grow into the adult you’ll become; to explore life outside of education; to realise that you don’t have to like what your friends like or want what your parents want for you. Maybe you’ll realise your future doesn’t lie in higher education at all. If you want to deliver pizzas or paint houses or walk dogs for a living, guess what? YOU CAN. That is not a lack of ambition; you’re only guilty of that if you decide what you want isn’t worth the effort involved. There’s value and joy to be found in a whole plethora of jobs that absolutely do not require a degree. Personally, I love me a bit of heavy lifting. I love being on my feet for an entire eight-hour shift (yes, future me is guilty of the purchase of one of those pretentious standing desks). What’s more, I believe thoroughly and whole-heartedly in the value of a little customer service experience, preferably when you’re young and malleable. Oxford might make you a brilliant academic, but working in a cinema for six years made me a better person, which is infinitely more valuable and didn’t cost me £36,000.
It’s not the end of the world if you make the wrong decisions
Getting your A level results and a spot at a great university just reeks of finality. I know it feels like the be all and end all. Now that you’ve hopped onto the successcalator (Trademark Hannah Mathewson) the only way is up, and if you fuck up, it’s all over. Well, it doesn’t work like that. If you ask me, you’ve come out of sixth form a success, not if you bagged straight As, but if you survived without having fashioned yourself a little Pit of Worthlessness and crawled up in it to die, the way I did. My point is, anyway, that you will probably wonder if you shouldn’t have studied a science instead of English Lit. Maybe you’ll question whether Sheffield would have been a smarter choice than Southampton. Perhaps you’ll come to rue the day you talked yourself out of that Erasmus Programme. And maybe it’ll be too late to change those decisions, but it’s okay. Life goes on, and you will find other ways. Whichever way this week and the coming months go for you, you will continue to make mistakes for your whole life, and the trick isn’t to try and help that, it’s to learn to deal, to keep moving forward, and to see open doors instead of missed opportunities.
If you’re wondering about my credentials for dispensing this wisdom, then here they are: I’ve lived through it. I flunked half my A levels, then much later on I got a first class degree from a great university, and you know what? Neither of those things has mattered. I mean, sure, if you’re dead set on becoming a doctor, or an architect, and you know what you’ve got to do to get there, then go for it. But if you’re floating about, waiting for something to drop, then cut yourself some slack. It’s more important to learn who you are, what makes you tick, and how to be happy and self-confident, than it is to be starting some £30k graduate job by the time you’re 24.
Just be brave, be curious, be open-minded, and apply yourself to whatever you do, because there’s more to learn from every single experience – A level physics, three months in Asia, a retail job – than a skill or knowledge set you might never use again.
It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay. Proud of you!
*alright I’ll think about it.