A Level results day should have been the most stressful of my life.
Predicted AAA, I had achieved just ABC. My dreams of studying History at Manchester, swanning off with at least two As and a B in my back pocket, were shattered. I had the UCAS Tariff points to scrape my Insurance choice, History at Leeds, but with just a B in History and a C on my file, even they didn't want me. I was cut adrift, my little ABC boat bobbing in the vast ocean of clearing.
It is the nightmare scenario for every 18 year old who will wake up with sweaty palms on Thursday morning. And probably even more of a nightmare for their parents and teachers. At first glance, their little boat has no paddles and, even if they reach their destination, it will permanently be marked 'CLEARING'. The stain will never wash off.
But there needn't be a stigma, and it needn't even be stressful. Because, for me at least, it's all turned out okay. A Level results day turned out to be quite nice, thank you very much, and it even helped me prepare for my future beyond University.
My school had arranged to email candidates their results at 8.30am, but for the first time that long, lazy post-A Level summer, I was awake well before then. Having paced the floors for about an hour, at 7.30am I decided to take a look just on the off chance the emails had been sent early. They had. With the same sense of anticipated nausea with which I would check my bank account as a student the following year, I opened the message. My heart sank, then quickened, then I started to sweat, then I felt a bit faint. I might have wailed. And then my parents knocked on my bedroom door.
Telling them was the hardest part. I cried a little. My mother cried a lot. My father, ever the pragmatist, just asked what I had to do next. I had no idea. I had a lump in my throat, and I felt ashamed. The only sensible thing seemed to go into school.
Once there I found the Director of University Entrance, who, incredulous, wanted to see for himself that Leeds had chosen not to accept me. I logged on to UCAS, showed him the depressingly bare screen and heard it for the first time. He said it. Clearing.
I didn't really know anything about clearing. It sounded like a black hole, sucking in all the lifeless and worthless particles and lumping them together. But I listened and learned quickly, headed to the newsagents and arrived at home armed with the clearing supplements of several national newspapers. clearing could actually be my golden ticket. My little ABC boat had a purpose, and some oars.
Dad had fretfully headed in to the office, so I set to work with my mother, and within an hour we had drawn up a list of about 20 courses with places available which were within reach. After another half an hour of discussions, I managed to convince mum that, despite the year abroad, Caribbean studies was not for me. Before too long we had whittled it down to two courses: ancient history at Nottingham, or economics at York.
So it was 10am, and having woken up with sweaty palms and no University to go to, I now had a choice between two well-respected courses at two well-respected institutions. By listening to the advice of those around me, getting hold of the right information, and most importantly avoiding the temptation to lapse into panic, I was home and dry before some of my peers were even out of bed. I picked up the phone, and the deal was done.
By 1pm I was in Nottingham with my mother, having lunch at what is now my favourite restaurant, French Living, and generally feeling pretty pleased with myself. That September I enrolled at the University of Nottingham. Three years later I graduated alongside all of my wonderful friends with a BA (Hons) in ancient history, and went straight into the world of work. I have never looked back.
Fast forward four years and, when interviewing for my current job in marketing at a Russell Group University, I am asked: 'could you give us an example of when you have shown your ability to perform under pressure?' Across the table from me sat two formidably intelligent academics. If 'clearing' continued to be a stigma, I would be about to find out... 'On A Level results day,' I began, 'I was disappointed to discover I had not achieved the grades I had been predicted...'
That answer helped me get the job, and convinced me to write this article. Not only is there no longer a stigma, but going into clearing could actually make you stand out from your peers in the future. For me, instead of being the most stressful day of my life, it turned out to be the most rewarding.