A-levels

A Star No Starter: Why You Are Worth More Than Your Grades

When you leave school with 7 A* grades at A-level, it’s pretty impressive.

When you fail to get a place at the University of Oxford on those grades, people start talking. That’s what happened to Alastair Herron this year.

Oxford (photo by Max-Design)

Oxford (photo by Max-Design) – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite the talking, not enough is known about the full application made. If we did have more information, would the application have fallen at a single point, or at several?

There isn’t a big story here, because Herron received offers from American universities and he has happily accepted a place at Stanford.

Whether you’re still looking for a uni place or you’ve graduated with full honours, there are some key takeaways from this news:

Keep your options open

Herron had offers from other universities that he was intent on going to. Regardless of an offer from Oxford, he had his sights set elsewhere. Interviewed on BBC Radio Belfast, Herron said, “I would never stay at Oxford with offers from America so I am not in any way disappointed”.

Whatever you do, have a number of routes open to you and prioritise. That way, you won’t flounder when one route comes crashing down. Herron took the news with a shrug. He was surprised, but he considered it Oxford’s loss. He already had other options at hand.

Grades are not the whole picture

University (and life) is about much more than exam results. Whatever you end up with, life goes on. Many things you set your sights on can still be achieved, albeit a little later and with further work. There are alternative routes in to some fields too.

When you’re put to the test, you waste your own time if you don’t put in any real effort. And when you do spend the time, don’t feel disheartened if you end up with less than straight As. Herron’s story shows that grades aren’t the whole picture.

Your situation wouldn’t necessarily be different with 100% in everything. You can’t read the future and it’s not worth playing ‘What if…?’ when you haven’t a clue how things would have turned out. Focus on here and now, not on an alternative reality.

Success doesn’t rely on one particular thing

It’s easy to fixate on a small part of the picture and building it up more than it needs. Spend enough time and effort on something and it’s not surprising that you can do great things in that area.

However, you need to demonstrate many qualities as a person. Personal traits, interests outside academia, social activities, and all sorts of elements comprise your unique makeup.

By all means boast a thousand A* A-levels, but be prepared to offer more than one sole quality.

Unless, of course, that quality is the solution to a huge problem or the answer to a long-standing question that has baffled generations of people. When you hold the key to something special, that’s great. Just be warned, this is rare. And even when you do hold the key, you may not realise it. In other words, don’t go searching for it blindly.

No regrets

When something doesn’t work out, however big or small, try not to dwell on it too much. My A-level adventure could have been much better if I had been mentored better and given more solid information, advice and guidance in certain places.

I didn’t let that bother me. For all the facepalm moments that I know could have been far better for me in hindsight, I’ve had many wonderful experiences that have taken me to places I wanted to be anyway.

If I regretted my actions and, once again, played the ‘What if…?’ game in my mind, I could have spent forever thinking I had missed my one and only chance.

There are other chances. It’s okay to kick yourself, or throw your head to the air and wish you’d spotted things sooner, but move on as soon as you can. Instead of regretting what has passed, concentrate on what could be. Seek out new ways to get to where you would like to be and use your new insights to help get you there this time.

Whatever the future holds, you can’t see it until it’s happened. And then it’s the past. Attempt to secure the best future for you, but don’t hold on to it if it doesn’t work out. Look forward, look for alternatives, and look out world…You’re on a mission!

We will never know precisely why a university turns a straight-A student down. That’s why it’s not worth focusing on.

You are worth more than your grades. You are better than that.

Returning to awesome: 7 things to do after lower A-level results

Okay, it’s A-level results day. If you, or anyone you know, is holding on to grades that weren’t the ones you’d hoped for, read this.

Your life IS NOT shaped by your results. YOU go way beyond a few exam grades.

What makes you awesome isn’t about a particular institution, degree, or career. Those things don’t matter as much as you might think.

Your awesomeness is about what you do. Everything you do. And who you are.

You are the big picture. While your experiences are parts of you, they don’t define you, they only help build a definition of you in pieces. For every situation that makes you want to crawl under a rock, there are many others that will pick you back up and make your big picture more amazing than ever.

In short, you can still make things happen if you want it. Lower A-level results aren’t a fail. You may have failed to secure a firm offer to the degree you wanted, but that doesn’t mean you fail. Or, put another way, failure is fine. It means you work on what’s next for your big picture.

Stuff like this can make you feel deflated. But don’t let it make you give up. Start with some of the following:

Have a cuppa and stay calm. Oh, and a doughnut too. Nom.

1. Take stock and stay calm

Yes, it’s time to pick yourself up, but have a cup of tea first. Have a few cups of tea. Basically, let it go for a moment. Nobody expects you to jump up fighting straight after a shock. So relax. As hard as that sounds, try.
It is not the end of the world. If anyone acts like it is, they are wrong. Hope is not lost.
Imagine how it feels when you’re really dizzy. Your balance is thrown around at first, but you gradually improve. Give yourself time to feel a bit less dizzy.

2. Consider clearing options

Although some unis say they have no clearing places, that’s no reason to ignore what is available. Check my previous posts on clearing to make sure you are prepared:

Other clearing tips online today:

3. Only accept a place through clearing if you really want it and you think it’ll suit you

Just grabbing at places because you’re desperate to go to uni is a dangerous move. If you really are that keen to be in a uni, ANY uni, it’s better to find places that will guarantee you a place next year based on the grades you have. Then plan ahead for the year ahead.
Yes, even though tuition fees go up next year. Fees are more annoying than dangerous.

4. Consider your other options

We’re all thrown curveballs from time to time. You certainly won’t be alone in this situation. There are other routes into uni. And you may even decide not to bother with university at all. Correct, that IS an option. Seriously. A good place to start in checking out other options is notgoingtouni.com.

The Independent has information on distance learning options.

Also check out Ross Renton’s tips on what do you do if you don’t get a place at University.

5. Find support from understanding friends and family

Don’t go through this alone. And if it is too tough to speak to those you know, seek online forums of support. There will be a lot of people going through similar circumstances over at The Student Room, for instance.

UCAS also has an Exam Results Helpline, with people on hand to discuss your future options. Give them a call on 0808 100 8000. UCAS say, “Whether it’s questions about continuing into further or higher education, or pursuing different routes such as vocational learning routes, taking a gap year or finding employment, advisers are on-hand to offer free, expert and independent information and advice”.

6. Work on Plan B, even when you don’t have one

University and College Union says that tens of thousands of students who don’t get a uni place this year are “unlikely to have a plan B“.

So make one. Now you’ve considered your options, make a focused plan. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it does need to be taken seriously.
Why? Because now is not the time to despair and grab at the first thing to fall into your reach.
Give it proper thought. Ask yourself some questions. What were you going to university for? How else can you get to where you want to be? Who or what can help you in your quest? Do you have any particular career or pathway in mind?
If you can’t answer all your questions, do some more research. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice as you do it. Nobody would be able to do as much as they do without other people.

7. Believe in yourself

It’s not always easy to pick yourself up after a fall. But don’t be hard on yourself. What’s done is done. If you did your best, there is nothing to worry about. You can shine brighter in other ways. If you know in your heart of hearts that you could have upped the effort, let this be Day One of making the effort you know you can give.

Good luck to you and may you have an amazing future.