As the dust settles on the 2017 results season, as we say goodbye to smug pairs of grinning twins holding up their matching A*s for the delight of a facile press let’s turn our attention to what happens next. With three distinct sets of those in receipt of exam board judgement there will be losers, there will be winners, there will be dispossessed, unhappy, frustrated, surprised and joyful students. Some are about to embark on their A levels or further education of some kind, others will be leaving home and adapting to university life and their degree studies and yet others still will be taking their first faltering, Bambi like, steps in to the world of responsibility and employment. Each stage is as terrifying as the last and even as an adult looking back, I remember all too well the dread terror mixed with hope and anticipation for what the next few years would hold.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts, for what they are worth, for those students or indeed graduates who are about to embark on this exciting next phase of their scholastic journey or mourning its completion.
1/ For students who have just completed their GCSEs now is a crucial time, educationally speaking, the choices you make now as you start in on your A levels, BTECs, NVQs or whatever else, will have a massive and lasting impact upon what happens next. As I wrote about the other day (https://edducan.blog/2017/08/22/take-heart-gcses-arent-the-bogeyman-you-may-think/) when it comes to GCSEs the most critical thing is that you do well enough not to shut down possible avenues for you. Most jobs and certainly most courses, university or otherwise will have minimum requirements such as the equivalent of a C in Maths & English – I can’t bring myself to use the numbers yet, it’s all still too raw and until everyone reaches a consensus on what a C is in new money it’s a little meaningless. Assuming you met these minimum requirements what you choose to do at A level can determine what options are available to you when it comes time to start filling out apprenticeship or UCAS forms.
The temptation is perhaps to choose subjects where you are confident of a good grade but that may be a red herring. Yes, you play to your strengths and certainly don’t take options where you have no chance of achieving a solid result but trying to coast, taking the easy options, General Studies for instance will not necessarily serve you longer term. Not all A levels are created equal and something like PE, where many students excel at GCSE level, is not necessarily something that will open doors for you at university level, unless you were intending to study Sports Science or similar. Between now and the start of term really start to think about the stage after A levels, where do you want to go, what do you want to be, what do you want to do? Look at the institutions or universities that are going to allow you to access those areas and then look at what subjects they prize. Getting three good grades in unrelated or irrelevant subjects will not necessarily be looked upon as kindly as a student with perhaps fewer points but in all the right subjects.
Start seeking out work experience opportunities, the more of this kind of stuff you do now, the better informed your choices will be and the more robust your application when it comes time to start filling out forms. Every weekend, every holiday, every afternoon represents an opportunity, you have the gift of time, a little bit often is much more effective than trying to cram 2 years of experience into a week at the end of the summer term. Even a little bit will demonstrate a long standing interest and commitment to a field which is crucial to impressing an admissions committee, particularly if you’re borderline in terms of your grades (or subject choices…)
2/ Ah, freshers… Those glorious days where you suck in the scent of freedom, march out on your own, have absurd rote philosophical discussions, dress up, endlessly debate Sartre, Nietchze, Marx, the pleasures of illusion and the meaning of life before phoning your parents to ask for more money or what temperature to wash your jumper at. It is an incredibly exciting time in your life and even as you live out every cliche and stereotype that will have your parents and tutors indulgently nodding with a mixture of mirth and pride, do know that as much as this is an exercise in spreading your wings it is also a serious business. Since the rocketing fees have gone from ridiculous to daylight robbery no more can or should university be the commune like free for all that it was in my day (not all that long ago but worlds apart from the current situation). If you are preparing to be saddled with a hefty chunk of debt that you will carry with you for a significant portion of your working career, then you need to make absolutely sure that the cost/benefit analysis is in your favour. That means taking responsibility for yourself. In every sense of the word, universities aren’t creches, they aren’t even schools. You can miss as many lectures as you want, you can ask for extension after extension, you can bunk, you can sleep in. You can do all of that stuff and no one will say anything up until the point when it becomes clear that you won’t pass the first year and they may take you aside and tell you to pull your finger out. You’ll think that you’re getting away with it, but you’re really not, you are only doing yourself out of money that you will have to pay back whether you pass or fail, turn up or opt out. It is on YOU, squarely upon you, to make sure you are up on time, that you set your study timetable, you prioritise the things that are important, you are in the place you are supposed to be at the time you are supposed to be there.
Turning up and applying yourself is the minimum height requirement to ride this thing though. Doing the bare minimum will lead to respectable but unremarkable grades. Where Firsts are thrown away like condom samples at a sexual health clinic (https://edducan.blog/2017/07/20/the-great-grade-giveaway-like-beads-for-boobs-but-with-1st-class-degrees/) and first class degrees and 2:1s now account for around 70% of degrees given out, being unremarkable is not enough. So yes, have fun, soak up everything that university life has to offer in terms of self reliance, self knowledge, self realization as well as greater understanding of the world around you and the place you inhabit within it. Have fun, get drunk, wake up on a dock front with a seal licking your face, experience everything you can but never lose sight of why you are there. This whole experiment is in service of your future so volunteer, get work experience, intern, work in the department library, act as a TA in your final year, collaborate, network, research, go to milk round and graduate scheme fairs, make the massive debt you are racking up count for more than memories involving traffic cones and full moon parties.
3/ The graduate. Hoooo, this is the bitch of the bunch and no mistake. This is the time where, perhaps for the first time in your life you are subject to the greatest level of rejection and self doubt you may experience. Applying to graduate schemes, looking for jobs, finding somewhere to live, renting your first flat perhaps – joining the massed throng, the working world. The Lowry people toiling in the proverbial mill. It is big, it is scary and there’s no way of knowing if you’ll enjoy it, if you’ve chosen wisely until after you’ve already started (unless you did all the work experience I always bang on about). The best advice I can offer any graduate is to steal yourself for some rejection, being good enough in a job interview doesn’t necessarily translate into getting the job – in an exam if you do everything right you get top marks, in an interview you can do everything right but still lose out to someone who better fit the profile of the business, performed better on the day, had more relevant experience or a million other things. Don’t be too hard on yourself, this will happen and if it doesn’t don’t be too smug or complacent because it will at some stage.
Get your CV in order, get some casual work, temping, bar work, an internship even, if you can afford to work for free or cheaply if still at home perhaps, this is just to get some money coming in whilst you look for something in the field you want to move into. Being out there engaging with the world and not wallowing is good practice for the future and is better on a CV than doing nothing. Practice interviewing, network where you can, engage with the world and look out for opportunities. Don’t hold out for the ‘perfect’ job you may be a while waiting. Get the best job you can with the skills and experience you have and work hard once there to gain promotion and opportunities. Don’t do anything just to stay busy, it’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than half way up one you don’t. You can afford to be restless and job hop a little during these first few years whilst you find your feet, the important thing is to soak up as much experience as possible to give you a firm basis and launch-pad for the rest of your career.
Don’t let the fact that things may not come together exactly as you’d planned when studying destroy your confidence, stay the course and do the right things and eventually the wind will change in your favour.
So there it is, the three stages of the post results season and some best practice advice for what you can or should be doing once the halcyon days of the summer holidays draw to a close. No matter what part of the journey you are on, stay optimistic, these are glorious times ripe with possibility and the world is truly yours for the taking. Or at least your future is.
As ever I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts and stories about what they did next and any hints or tips they would add.