Is it really four years since that fateful day? I’m talking about that day. That day when, surrounded by my peers, many of whom were drowning in anxiety and perhaps a little over-exaggerated hysteria, I sauntered into the school hall, whose smell of cheap wax and Wotsits I can still smell to this day. There, lined up before us, were three folding tables, with a smiling woman from reception behind each one. After she sifted through the envelopes in her box labelled ‘J – Q’, and handed me mine with a saccharine smile, I realised that somewhere inside the envelope in my hands were the four most important letters of my life. Four letters which were rather unfairly now the pinnacle of my academic life. Four letters, which, behind my back, had in a way begun paving the way for the rest of my life. It was strangely monumental.
Well, I’d like to put that much weight on that moment I opened my A Level results, but I’d already received a text message from the University of Exeter first thing that morning, so I suppose I didn’t need to subject myself to the smell of crisps and awkward conversations with the headteacher that afternoon. ‘Congratulations!’ the text read, telling me that I’d already secured my place. It took a while to register, as I rubbed the sleep from eyes, before deliberating falling back into bed or heading down to find out how I’d really done. I did the latter, of course.
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.
This time of year is incredibly stressful for students awaiting results all over the country, especially those waiting to find out if they have got into their university of choice. I’m not lying when I say that results day was the most important day of my life to date. It was a horribly daunting thought that the contents of that envelope would determine where I would be living and what I would be doing for the next 5 years of my life. Having to go back to school and retake, then reapply and go to all the interviews again seemed unbearable. However, on the other hand, a year out might not be so terrible. I planned on retaking the subjects I hadn’t achieved so well in, getting as much work experience as possible and maybe a well-paid part-time job on the side. In fact, universities often prefer older students, who have had a year to mature and gain experience relevant to their degree. It shows determination, resilience and commitment. Having a well-thought out back up plan is invaluable; it takes a lot of pressure off of results day. Although I preferred to get in first time, I knew I would be okay either way.
I had received two conditional offers to study medicine, both asking for 3 A’s. Many of my friends had received 3-4 offers, with different universities asking for different grades. They had their first choice university and aimed to fulfil their grade requirements, but then also had other universities offering them a place if they did not do as well as expected.
Discovering that I had achieved my grades was the best feeling ever; I cried my eyes out and so did my mum.