A-level results day can be an important step on the road to your chosen career. Or, if your grades aren’t what you were hoping for, it might lead to some fresh thinking about what to do next.
Part of a plan
For some people, A-level results day is a milestone in a longer-term plan. Sonal Shah, a Trainee Solicitor, had an idea about her career choice from the age of 14, but “the decision was made at about 16 when I was lucky enough to shadow a barrister for a week in the summer holidays.” She didn’t need specific A-levels to study law, but got the grades that were required from the subjects she chose. “In the end,” she continues, “I did Law and German at university, which was a brilliant decision. I had a really good time and, you know, a few years later here I am.”
Water Engineer, Nariba Gittens, also had a clear idea of what she wanted to do, and got the grades she needed. A teacher at school had been a civil engineer, Nariba explains, and “what she said, and the type of career that she had progressed in, really piqued my interest.” Nariba admits that it was daunting at first being one of the few women studying engineering, “but I think one of the things I’ve realised is that people respect you for what you know, and they don’t judge you for who you are.”
Owain Sheppard, a Hydrologist, didn’t have any career in mind when he picked his A-levels. “I chose subjects that I felt I was strongest in, and those that I enjoyed the most,” he says – namely, Physics, Geography, and Chemistry. “On the back of those, I decided to undertake a degree in Geography which a lot of people say is a degree for people that don’t know what they want to do.” It worked out well, however, and, once he graduated, Owain got a job with the Environment Agency.
Short of points
If you’re short of grade points, as Research Co-ordinator, Katrina Bramwell was, results time can be hectic. She only got two A-levels rather than the three required to study Marine Biology. “There was about an hour after I’d picked up my A-levels when I was thinking I needed to rethink my future,” she explains. Fortunately, she was still able to get onto the course. “My Sixth Form tutor phoned the university for me they said that I’d got the place. So it was it was fine in the end.”
Falling short of your hoped-for grades can be tough to take. Rosie Mullender, a Senior Features Writer for Cosmopolitan magazine was devastated when she failed to make it to Cambridge University having studied as hard as she possibly could. But, ultimately, she feels it was for the best. “I went to York University and had a fantastic time,” she says. “It really brought me out of my shell.”
Kelly Richardson, a sales executive, was even more upset when she failed to get the grades she’d been hoping for. “I ran all the way home in tears,” she recalls. “I thought nowhere would take me – all of my friends were going to go to university but I would be left behind.” She went into Clearing, the system whereby people who don’t have the grades they need are matched with courses on which places are still available. With the help of her teachers, Kelly was able to find a place to do an HND in Hospitality and Tourism management which led to a degree course. “So out of not getting brilliant results in my A-levels, I came out with a HND and a degree, which is fantastic,” she says.
Another option if you fail to get your grades is to take a gap year and rethink. James Pearson, a Chartered Surveyor, went to live in Namibia after failing to get onto the university course he’d chosen. “It was a fantastic eight months because it was kind of a growing up period and also an opportunity to go and live somewhere totally different,” he says. Even if you do get your grades, time away can be significant. Rachel Wilson, a Social Worker, travelled overseas before going to university. “I worked in Africa on my gap year and that really affected me. It made me realise that I wanted to work with disadvantaged children. It was really difficult, really fulfilling, enlightening and quite life-changing.”
For Charley Henderson, a Research Co-ordinator, disappointing exam results meant that she couldn’t get a place at university. “I didn’t do as well in them as I could have done,” she admits “And I know I should have studied more [but] I was more interested in socialising with my friends.” She decided to apply for jobs in the City. “I knew it was probably quite a good route to go,” she says, “because you can get in at the bottom and work your way up.”
Trainee Molecular Geneticist, Helen Swalwell, also found her studies suffering at the expense of her social life. “I didn’t do anywhere near as well in my A-levels as I did at GCSE,” she says. “I discovered drinking and music and didn’t really put very much into sixth form college.” She got a job with a bank but, after a year, decided to have another go at university, and got a place to study Biology. She found it hard going at first, but settled in and ended up taking a PhD.
Andy Foster, a Trading Standards Manager at Northeast Lincolnshire Council, says that he always had “a passion for business” and so chose to go on a training scheme with the local authority at the age of 16 rather than study. “I got quite lucky,” he continues, “because only six-seven weeks into my placement, I was offered a full-time role within the department.”
Tom Green, Writer and Editor
Find out more about surviving A-level results