It is that time of year again. Sixth form students up and down the country are waking up to a series of letters that they envisage will determine the rest of their life. The hope is that these letters are from the first three in the alphabet – descending further down the chain spells misery. Best not to think about it.
Since the very start of your educational journey, you have been indoctrinated with the notion that educational grades are the most important thing known to man. Oxygen is a mere second – it is hardly worth the lungs it is respired with without decent grades. Just exactly how true this is? Are people with poor results destined for a life of terrible prospects and zero opportunity?
What’s your goal?
The key in deciphering the value of an A Level is to begin with the end in mind. What is it that you want from your time on this planet? Do you honestly know? Do you want to attend university for the fulfilment of some deep seated, intellectual desire, or is it merely as a passenger on the conveyor belt of “this is what everyone else does”?
You see, without an end goal, you cannot possibly say whether A Levels contain any value. As soon as you set a goal, the value in any activity becomes immediately apparent. If you want to be a doctor, then A Levels are undoubtedly important. However, there aren’t many careers nowadays that you cannot access without having a degree or A Levels. Plenty of careers can be accessed through valid work experience and perspiration showcasing your skills in more creative ways than a letter on a piece of paper.
If your end goal is to be a journalist, why not spend the next three years writing a blog on a topic of your interest, and writing guest columns in local papers for free. Build up a portfolio of work and network shamelessly to get contacts that will help propel you into a career. Want to be a social media marketing expert? Create a Facebook campaign for a local event, make a viral video for YouTube. Your options are endless. Write about your experiences and you are building up a CV to be envious of.
Hey, wait, I need A Levels – but I failed.
You may be in a position where you have a concrete end goal, and have now hit a roadblock due to poorer-than-expected A Level grades. Game over. Kaput. That’s it. Or is it? Blind panic sets in when the above scenario is encountered. It is as if A Level failure has somehow shut off your desired career path entirely and that is it for you, best learn how to make a Big Mac.
Let me digress with an analogy. Upon takeoff, a pilot has an end destination which he wants to reach. Whilst in the air, he has a flight plan to adhere to – a flight plan that is rarely stuck to verbatim. Things happen. He may encounter a storm, poor pressure conditions, no fly zones, engine failures etc etc. What does he do? He responds by taking the next available course.
Your A Level results are merely a juncture in your life where you have to make a decision. Either that decision is to carry along the same path, or it is to alter your course to a different path that circumnavigates the one that has a block, and eventually get to your destination – just a bit later than anticipated.
A note on time. Having progressed in life to the sprightly age of 28, I am well aware that time appears ridiculously short looking back. I took 3 years between my A Levels and University – this appeared like a lifetime. All my friends had graduated, moved on, the world had changed etc etc. Looking back on that time at 28 – it seems like a heartbeat. If you have to take a route that takes an extra year or five, do not worry about the time. Better to be on the long path to a destination you want to reach than the short path to one you don’t.
But I Have to Go To Uni – I’ll go through clearing
Hold your horses, Tonto. There may be SIGNIFICANT external pressure from the outside to go to university. If you have done less well than expected, you may feel a place through clearing is the best option to placate your parents. After all, they just want you to go to uni – if you have a place, all will be right with the world again.
The decision about clearing should rest on what your main goal is. If your goal is to go to university for the sake of university, then fire away, go through clearing and have a whale of a time. However, if you have more concrete desires in terms of the career path you wish to follow, take a second to think.
Will the course you eventually gain acceptance to suffice in your quest towards your ideal career? If not, do not go.
The worst thing in the world is going to university for going’s sake. Uni is no longer a magic bullet to great employment, and to think otherwise would be folly. You need to think carefully about what you want to do, and create the kind of end goal that will lift you to great things whilst there. If you end up on a course you have no desire for, when the new wrapping of uni life has been thrown away and put in a landfill and the reality of December exams set in, what is going to get you out of bed to study? If you don’t have a strong goal, you won’t.
Deciding against clearing and taking the long path is the harder, less comfortable road. To my mind, the best indicator of whether or not you should do something is whether it is hard and uncomfortable (no double entendre intended). The easy option is rarely the right option. Personal growth lies at the boundaries of your current comfort zone – take yourself out of that zone and you will progress forward.
Parental input will be the thing at the back of your mind when making this decision. Here is my 6 point plan to winning over your parents: –
1) Have a concrete end goal to your decision.
2) Plan your route to your end goal with specific time frames.
3) Create a presentation of your goal and your plans.
4) Frame your presentation in terms of the benefits to your parents.
5) Outline the potential consequences, advantages and disadvantages (statistics work well here).
6) State how you will respond if these occur.
Having a concrete plan and strong rationale will persuade any parent. At the end of the day, all a parent wants is for their offspring to be happy. Show them that this is your route to happiness, and that you know what you are doing. They will trust you if you can show how much thought you have put into it.
The Skills Mentality
Above all, the educational journey is essentially an exercise in proving competency for your future career. In the digital age, there is more than one way to skin a cat. What do you think is more powerful to a potential employer – a person with a computer science degree or a dropout who has coded 25 sites on her own? A person with a business degree or an individual who started their own eBay store after college, which failed after three years, but has learnt an awful lot? A person with a journalism degree or a blog owner with a following of 5,000 site visits a month?
Doing stuff is way more powerful than learning about stuff. We are in the day and age where anyone can go online, teach themselves how to do things, evidence them with videos, blogs, photos and actual tangible work, and use the results to impress people. No longer are grades the sole route to employment. You are limited only by your own creativity.
Are A Levels the be all and end all? Absolutely not. But your attitude is. What are you going to do?