16/08/2018 13:33 BST | Updated 16/08/2018 13:33 BST

You’ve Finished Your A-levels, Now What?

If you’re getting second thoughts about going to uni, that’s ok

Matthew Horwood via Getty Images

Every year I see a lot of fear on The Student Room around results day. Students who are desperate to make the right decision, drowning in information, starving for wisdom, feeling the pressure to follow the well-trodden path of university immediately because that’s the kind of ambition that defines ‘success’. 

It’s important to remember that no one decision has the power to define your whole life, there is no rule book, and you definitely don’t have to have some kind of A* plan which maps out your future.  

Ditch “when I grow up, I want to be...”. Instead ask yourself what do you want from your life? Society continues to promote lucrative ambition – pushing us towards jobs with generous salaries, job roles that boost our egos, lifestyles that are Instagram-ready. Is this what you really want? Now school is done, you have time to explore what I call “heart-centred ambition” – what is really important to you, what are your values, what kind of study or work will fulfil you? What change do you want to bring? You don’t need to know all the answers now, just consider the benefits of following what lights you up, instead of making a decision based on what others think you should be doing. 

Having second-thoughts is fine... don’t ignore them. If you’re getting second thoughts about going to uni, that’s ok. You’re having them for a reason, so it’s important to give yourself the space to find out why. It’s tough having to choose a university course when swamped by study and revision, people change over time and perhaps you’ve changed in the last year. Make a decision now based on the person you know you’re becoming, not who you used to be. Believe me, your future self will thank you for it. 

If you want to change your university choice you can request to be released and use Clearing to find an alternative that fits you better. If you’re still not sure, don’t put any more pressure on yourself. Consider deferring your place and taking some time out. 

If you want to work and you’re still keen to learn, look at something more vocational like apprenticeships and traineeships. The bar has been raised significantly with apprenticeships, and if those kinds of opportunities had been available to me I would have definitely been tempted. 

What’s the big rush? If you want to take some time out or travel, do it. Gap years have been given a bit of rough time of it in recent years. Students worry they’ll look flaky to universities and employers if they add it to their CV. There is no shame in a gap year, you’ve been studying since you were five, that’s 13 years and you’ve had to make a lot of big decisions in that time. Nothing bad will come from pressing pause. Working will give you the opportunity to bank some savings, travelling will give you the opportunity to explore what feels good, connect you with what really interests you, make you feel brave enough to run towards what you really want from life.  

You might have lots of different jobs or careers, that’s ok. Multiple career changes are definitely becoming the norm. After A-levels I was desperate to be an adult, to be independent, to run away to uni. Looking back, I’d definitely constructed my own life conveyor belt, first stop – uni, second stop – established career, third stop – prove it was all worth it by being really ‘successful’. The problem is that once I became my own definition of success I was taken down by depression and overrun by anxiety. I discovered that the life I was living wasn’t the life for me, I was incredibly unhappy. Five years later I work in a variety of roles, student adviser, advocate, therapist, yoga teacher, mentor. These jobs weren’t even on my radar on A-level results day, but every step from that moment has got me to where I am now. A step taken is never a step wasted.

Remember, exam results open doors, but they don’t define your potential as a human. Your attitude, commitment and drive absolutely will. Be curious, give yourself the space to consider what you really want. There is no wrong path.