A level results day is fast approaching; there are university guides and advice on Clearing appearing in the papers, some of your more confident friends might be preemptively joining Freshers’ groups on Facebook and there’s that slight anxiety in the air when asking any recent leaver where exactly they’re going in September. (I was always overly deliberate when answering that one, “Well hopefully I’ll be going to Exeter, but it could all change!!” – just in case anyone got the wrong idea and started assuming things.)
For the millions out there with conditional offers for places at university, that awkwardly placed day in August (following an entire summer of deliberately not thinking about the whole thing) can feel like a life-defining moment, a major turning point in your academic career. The exams are over, the coursework is in, the UCAS form long since submitted; at this final hurdle it’s as simple as a yes or no answer, in or out, and there’s not a lot you can do about it either way.
My experience of A level results day was an overwhelming one, just as I imagine it is for most people. I can vividly remember the low-grade nerves that built up in the week before, which manifested themselves in carefully constructing plans B, C and D if my grades weren’t enough for my History offer. Up until the night before I was trying to distract myself by making notes on how exactly to go about navigating the Clearing website, and writing down numbers for people to contact in Exeter if needs be. Even the best friend, famously chilled about academic drama, later admitted she had to go for a late night stroll to try and walk off some of the tension. We’d already been warned (read: lectured on multiple times by teachers and received numerous emails about) that UCAS would absolutely not be accessible at midnight, and that we might as well sleep through. Needless to say, it was not a great night’s sleep. More like Christmas Eve as a kid again, but without the guarantee of any presents in the morning.
When morning did come it was at the leisurely hour of 8am, just as I was getting ready to head to school to collect my results, that an email and a text arrived from Exeter confirming my offer. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day – I was absolutely thrilled and intensely relieved that the hard work had paid off, and that plans B, C and D would not be needed. I didn’t quite cry, but my Dad certainly did – loudly and shamelessly down the phone from work. Arriving in the school car park I met the best friend (whose place had been confirmed at Manchester) with a hug so violent I think we gave each other mild concussion. The sixth form centre was a sea of emotion, crying, both happy and sad, from teachers and students, and a whole lot more hugging.
I can’t really remember the rest of the day, but I know it passed in a never-ending series of congratulations and condolences, of yelling at classmates across the street in town and sending friends cautious texts along the lines of “is everything alright?” in an effort to be as tactful as possible in case of the worst. I quickly realised as happy as I was to be set up with my first choice of university, I was also very lucky to be in that position. Close friends I’d been through the whole 7 years of secondary education with had just missed out on offers and were second-guessing insurance options, and some had missed out completely. Painfully, one friend who’d been in the coveted position of getting an offer for medicine just missed out on her grades, while those aspiring medics who had received 5 rejections were delighted with multiple A*s that pretty much assured them an offer in the coming September. It was a long and emotionally-charged day, and as much as I tried to tone it down for those for whom things hadn’t gone as well – I literally spent the next 3 weeks on cloud nine. A friend several years into uni told me somewhat cynically “this is a great time, enjoy it while it lasts before the real work starts” and I definitely did.
There was no room for feeling worried about leaving home and moving 200 miles away in and around the dorky happiness and sense of pride I felt about now being officially a ‘university student’. In the coming weeks by day I raided Wilkos for bathroom bins and bedside lights (I could write odes to what a fabulous student shop Wilkos is) and Tescos for an all-inclusive crockery set; by night I was buying tickets for Freshers’ events (with mixed results – see my first post on advice to Freshers) and shamelessly stalking the Facebook profiles of people in my halls. As my older and wiser friend advised, it really was a great time – and for those of you whose place in September is a sure thing, enjoy it. Make the most of seeing friends before you all go your separate ways up and down the country, feel proud of yourself that you’ve made it past the final hoop-jump of our education system and if you’re feeling über keen, maybe have a look at reading lists or advisory prep material so it’s not too much of shock come your first lecture (she says, despite that being something I certainly didn’t do.)
For anyone already feeling anxious about making friends and being homesick, it’s best to embrace the fact you’ll inevitably encounter those issues at uni at some point. What’s important to remember is that time-old cliché that every other first year is in exactly the same boat. Everyone wants to make friends as soon as possible, and everyone will have a night or two where they wish they could be back home – though most will do their damnedest to try and hide it. I’ll admit to being guilty on this front; to any of the friends I wasn’t in regular contact with, my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter probably gave off the impression I was enjoying a seamless transition from school to the ‘#studentlife’ experience. The reality of course, was far from it. I don’t think it would be too much of an assumption to say that nobody’s transition is ‘seamless.’ Be wary of social media in that respect, particularly when it comes to starting university; everyone wants to project the freshers year they want other people to think they’re having, not the one they’re necessarily experiencing.
To come back to the subject of this post however, while it’d be nice to wish you all an A level results day worthy of the cheesy High School Muscial-esque jumping photoshoots that appear on the front of The Times the following day, I know that realistically that won’t be the case for everyone. While I can’t speak from experience and am therefore probably not best placed to be giving advice, I can say that from following others’ experiences I do know that as awful as it can be not getting the offer you dreamed of and the results you wanted, in the end, it really does all work out. Promise. Friends who went on unexpected gap years have truly had amazingly enviable times, and for some it has completely changed their life plans – who wants to do a business degree at Leeds when you can be a fully-qualified ski instructor in Austria? Likewise, for those who really did want to do the uni thing, they re-applied in September and are no worse off for it. On a sidenote, everyone will tell you (and I’m happy to join that number) that age isn’t a thing at university, and it really isn’t. No-one asks how old you are. People might assume, but if your birthday comes around and it’s an iced 20 on your dodgy student-kitchen made cake as opposed to a 19, no one thinks any differently of you for it.
And with that, there’s nothing left for me to say other than good luck (as redundant as luck might be at this point!) I’ve got my fingers crossed for you all x