Exam time for students is often said to be one to the most intense periods of life. It can certainly be incredibly stressful to absorb as much information as possible and cope with the bombardment of being constantly told that how you handle these exams will have a significant effect on your future.
Many of you have finished your exams for the year and the rest will be finishing soon. And that means your immediate future, while you wait for your results, is a unique period of around six weeks where everything can feel very uncertain. But while it's a nerve-wracking time, it's also a period of opportunity.
Some of you will already have the next stage planned out; whether you feel confident about getting grades for university, or have researched the possibility of clearing, have arranged interviews for work, or are applying to join an apprenticeship scheme. Or you may have considered another number of options that exist for you right now, On the other hand, some of you may not have the next stage planned out.
But the one certainty is the fact that you need to wait to find out what happens next.
So - what can you do with those six weeks of summer?
Well the first and most important thing you must do, no matter how you choose to fill your time, is not to overly focus on the results. The exams are done, the papers are submitted and outside of inventing a time machine there is nothing you can do now except wait to see what your results are.
But of course not worrying about them is far easier said than done - indeed a number of fingernails were shortened by this blogger during exam periods - so here are some tips to make the most of the intervening period.
First off - remember there are options no matter what happens. This is hard because for the past two years, all you've heard is how important these grades are. Now you suddenly have to switch mindsets. But please do be assured, there are many options out there.
When exam results come out, I will be writing another blog about the next steps, whatever they may be. For now I want to talk about how, if you use the intervening period wisely, you can actually broaden those options. If you do get to pursue your original plan, then you will find that the following tips will have worked equally well for you, as they will help you to be extra prepared for the next stage.
Six weeks adds up to roughly 1000 hours of time. After sleeping and eating are taken out, that leaves around 450 hours for you to make the most of opportunities and distract yourself from the nail-biting D-day that will see you get your results.
Two of the best things you can develop in that time, are direction and experience.
The need for direction
One of the most common concerns for almost all young people is that they're not sure what they want to do with their lives. This is true whether you have secured a place at university, or if you don't yet know if that is an option, or if you've decided to pursue a different direction into further or higher education or employment.
The first thing to remember is that that's ok. Very few people at your age can set themselves exact career and life goals.
But if you have an idea of where you might want to go, then you can make informed choices that can lead to amazing opportunities.
The need for experience
Whether you are heading on to further study or are thinking of going straight into work, either now or in the future you will come to face the challenge of needing "experience" in order to qualify for an opportunity,
Thinking now about how you might achieve that all important quality can be incredibly useful. When you start to look for employment, be that full-time or part-time, almost all potential employers prefer hiring people with experience in the "real world". And if you have only concentrated on studies so far, then how can you prove yourself?
Helping yourself achieve your goals
So - if two core life goals right now would be to understand what you might want to do with your life and to achieve experience that will help you get there, then now is an excellent time to look at how to go about achieving them.
First off, ask yourself "what am I naturally good at?" "What do I enjoy?" Beginning to think about this can help you find where your strongest potential lies - and by doing that you can help yourself to decide on a potential life direction. Of course this might change, but the only place to start is to find purpose and direction.
And - if you have an idea about where you might want to be heading, how can you use the next 450 free hours of your life to its best advantage?
Of course many of you will be planning to find temporary work while you wait for your results, and this can have an impact on how much choice you have in terms of working towards securing your future. But I would advise caution - you have just spent the last two years of your life working towards something vital - so if you can make time outside of needing to work over the summer to look into some of these options then I would urge you to look into the following:
Volunteering - this may not immediately seem like the most appealing of opportunities - why work for free if you are able to find paid work? But there are many schemes set up specifically to give you skills that will serve you well for your whole career, giving you the opportunity to learn new things, meet new people and make a difference.
This week, is by coincidence National Volunteer Week. Of course not everyone is in a position to work unpaid after exams, but if you are able to, then I would strongly urge you to consider volunteering as option as it can provide essential life skills; leadership, problem-solving, adaptability, time management, communication and working as part of a team are just some of the skills that you can develop if you chose to volunteer.
What's more, volunteering can lead to paid work. As the Mayor's Office for London recently said "Three out of four employers would hire a candidate with volunteering experience ahead of one without." The government has some useful resources to help you look into volunteering options all over the country, check out this link to find out more.
Another option to look into is the possibility of interning over the summer period. If you are careful to research the prospects available, and choose your placement wisely, internships can offer valuable future options and can be a stepping stone to full time employment or useful a pre-curser for apprenticeship and graduateship programmes.
Although the nature of the role and the length of time of the placement can mean that a lot of the work of an intern may involve administrative tasks, many companies hire interns to work on actual projects alongside full-time staff. Rather than just sorting mail, making photocopies or answering phones, interns usually complete entry-level job assignments. So unless you're interning at Starbucks, coffee fetching should be a minimum part of the role! Again you can check out this link on the Government website to find out more.
And if you happen to be 15-17 and have read all the way down to here in preparation for what lies ahead (and kudos to you for forward planning and for sticking with me!) then in your summer break you might want to consider the National Citizen Service (NCS) which gives placements over the summer to help young people develop skills such a leadership, teamwork and communication and gives you a taste of independent living.
Of course you also need to use this time to relax, wind down, and let the pressure of the last two years lift from your shoulders, spend time with friends, and have fun. But if you combine that with taking time to grab the opportunities that are out there, you won't regret it.
As I mentioned above, when exam results come out, I will be writing another blog about what to do once you have them - but for now - try to enjoy and get the most out of the next six weeks as you possibly can - you've earned it!