This year A-level results day is 16 August 16. Many students will find out they achieved the required grades to pursue their preferred courses. Those who miss them may consider Clearing - a process run by UCAS that matches students with remaining places.
I'd like to share six (rather harsh) choices I suggest your children consider, if they plan to enter Clearing. As George Clooney's character Chris Kelvin (the protagonist in the sci-fi movie Solaris) says: "There are no answers, only choices."
1. Failure vs. Opportunity
There is no doubt that life has its ups and downs. However, how they deal with them can make all the difference. So, they either start beating themselves why they didn't study more and feeling depressed or they get their act together and think what they can do from now on.
Remember: they may be better off than those who have chosen the wrong subject. This situation will give them another chance to think carefully how they want to shape their future.
2. What vs. Why
Students may be inclined to find a place at a university as soon as possible. Making decisions while in panic mode doesn't usually help. Advise them to take a pause and re-assess why they want to study in the first place and what they expect to get out from their studies.
Help them to think long-term. Ask them to reflect what career they want to have in 10 years. Which degree will help them to get there?
3. Employability vs. Overall Knowledge
Academics cannot agree on what universities are for. Nevertheless, applicants need to be clear what university is for them. Do they want to get the skills that will make them more employable? Do they want to get exposure to various courses that will help them develop a well-rounded personality?
It is up to them to decide what they expect from a university degree. A word of caution though: given that the cost of higher education is significant, it is important to optimize the return of their investment (both money and time).
4. Generalists vs. Experts
Until recently, many students were choosing to study a general subject because they wanted to keep their job options open and didn't want to be pigeonholed in one area. Although this has been a good strategy up until now, it might not be in the future. Nowadays, there is a move from generalists to experts. Employers are looking for depth rather than breadth.
If they want to increase their employability, they need to find an up-and-coming area and become an expert in it.
5. University vs. Subject
Imagine they have a choice between a place at an Oxbridge university to study a subject they are not particularly interested in versus a place for a subject they love and has future potential but the university is not very high at the league tables. What would you advise them to do? Each of the options has its pros and cons. It really depends on why they want to study and what they expect from their degree.
They need to be aware though that job prospects vary considerably across subjects. I would also suggest they choose an institution that will provide them with high quality of teaching. If they are unsure, it will best to ask people in the career path they want to follow whether they would hire somebody from the university they consider.
6. Now vs. Next Year
Well, if students have clarity about the choices above and they can get a place in a subject they are passionate about, with good job prospects, and the university has a good reputation, then they should go for it. However, if they are not clear, then they may want to consider either to get an apprenticeship or reapply the following year.
Waiting for one more year to get what they really want, it is worth the effort. You may want to challenge them if they really know what they want to do?
So, I really hope young people get the A-level results they are aiming for. If not, you can remind them of the following quote: "Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending."