The road to university is sometimes not as simple and linear as we'd hope. A personal account of how an unfortunate incident made me see the bigger picture and the importance of well roundedness.
In a recent article on The Huffington Post UK, Lucy Sherriff asked if A-Levels matter if you have got into the University of your choice. Some students argued that despite being accepted they found it difficult to shake the notion that they didn't quite achieve what they wanted, feeling some disappointment at falling short of their high expectations. This prompted me to respond with my own personal account of results day and why for an A* predicted student, receiving an E was definitely not the worst feeling in the world.
I had been working hard all year and revising, in my mum's words "like a Trojan" for my Summer A2 exams when, five days before my first, my father collapsed, was taken to hospital and diagnosed with lung cancer.
My Dad was very active, healthy and relatively young, (52) so this incident came as a complete shock. Discovering a family member has a critical illness is upsetting and unsettling and although I was determined to sit my exams, I was in no state to have achieved even marginally what I could have in better circumstances. So I took the decsion to apply for special consideration. I have always been a hard working and motivated student with three A* predictions and 4 A's at AS level.
However my Dad's illness forced me to reevaluate my priorities; as the emotional strain left me unable to concentrate on little more than day to day necessities let alone get my head around the influence of Milton's earlier political writings on Book IX of Paradise Lost! Fortunately, my Dad was lucky enough to be an eligible candidate for surgery and the cancerous tumour in his lung was successfully removed. After three days in intensive care, and an extended stay in hospital he is now miraculously on the way to a full recovery.
I felt so thankful that he was going to be okay yet my future at university was in the balance. The special consideration rule states that students must have completed at least 50% of work towards their A2 to receive their predicted grades: in English my coursework was only worth 40% and Philosophy and Ethics was 100% exam. I was given 0 marks for not undertaking my final exams in these subjects which naturally would make a huge dent in my overall grade.
I could take a gap year but I hadn't planned one; I had already applied for student finance, completed my UCAS and had an interview for my university. The possibility of putting it off a year made me feel like I was in groundhog day, repeating the same work I had been doing which wasn't completed because of circumstances out of my control.
The prospect of my friends going off to university whilst I stayed at home, working and revising to attain my grades, really knocked my confidence and enthusiasm. I can sympathise with the students in Lucy's article that were upset about receiving lower grades than they had hoped for;
I began to realise how much I had used my success in school as some form of validation that I was good enough, clever enough, successful enough. But I was determined not to let my dad's illness and subsequent events affect me negatively. I appealed to my chosen university, explaining the situation and fortunately they awarded me a place anyway, regardless of my results A*CE being a far cry from the AAB I needed. Instead taking into account the circumstances of the situation, my personal statement, interview and favourable references from my teachers.
Clearly, it is not just grades that matter.
Life is a whole lot bigger than a piece of paper. What's important is that you can prove your tenacity and enthusiasm for what you want to do, be it in higher education or otherwise. University is not for everyone, sometimes we have bad days in exams and sometimes things unexpectedly turn up out of the blue and throw you off course. It is what you make of a bad situation that reveals more about your character than a UMS score.
Although 'special consideration' seems to imply a specific and tailored approach to each individual's needs, in actual fact there are blanket specifications every candidate must qualify for in order to receive it which will differ depending on your exam board, module and subject choice. The system needs work; it is dubious, particular and pretty unreliable in my case so if you find yourself in a situation where you need to appeal, be confident in the knowledge that you have other merits to back up what you may have lacked in grades.
Some of my friends missed out on the grades required of them for university but were still accepted. The reason? These people did not just depend solely on their results to showcase their aptitude. They had incredible personal statements, a wealth of work experience and other interests and activities outside of school. It is these skills that make them well rounded and ultimately will stipulate how well they react to a university lifestyle and in future their success in the job market. A levels are not the only way to show commitment and concentration.
Though this may sound contradictory in light of this article, this January, whilst at university I would like to sit my A Levels. I would not want to retake them if I had already done them and received slightly less than I'd hoped; I would accept that what I would have received would be testament to the effort I put in (and if there were any major discrepancies I would have sent it to be remarked).
But personal circumstances robbed me of the opportunity to do them, and therefore I would like to put my hard work to good use and for my own peace of mind, be able to say, "this is what I achieved", not "this is what was dished out to me by misfortune". Though some may be disappointed in their results, disappointment can be a good thing. Channel that emotion and energy into improving next time - whatever you go on to do, you have the rest of your life to prove yourself- and there's plenty of other ways to do it.
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