The Blog

Failed Your Exams? You're the Lucky One

When the Scottish results came out on the 5th of August, it was announced that pupils had achieved a record number of top Higher grades, winning 30,000 university and college places in the process. Unfortunately, some were not so lucky.

When the Scottish results came out on the 5th of August, it was announced that pupils had achieved a record number of top Higher grades, winning 30,000 university and college places in the process.

Unfortunately, some were not so lucky.

Since then, Twitter has seen an influx of vague, clichéd messages of comfort, commiseration and condolence. "It's the sum of your past, not your future," they say, "you can make your own way in the world," or the less poetic, "education is a load of shit." The thing is, this advice always seems to come from those in the entertainment industry, where formal qualifications are unimportant, and talent isn't exactly essential half of the time - just look at Kim Kardashian.

Three years ago, I was one of those people you see nervously opening their envelopes at the merciless beck and call of breakfast television viewers - although, I was given the privacy to receive my bad news without a camera in my face. I remember sitting there, paralyzed by my trepidation; my back aching with the weight of a figurative load of worry I had been carrying for months. I watched myself slide a trembling thumb along the seal, and I finally laid eyes upon my certificate. I had failed everything.

No stranger's sympathy could help. I was stuck with the prospect of a financially crippling year: jobless, hopeless and useless. Another failure of Cameron's broken Britain.

Five months earlier, I had applied to study journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University, storming a voice test, grammar test, short writing assignment, some current affairs questions and then finally the interview itself, receiving a conditional offer.

"You'll hear back through UCAS in a couple of weeks," said a pink-shirted Englishman whose voice croaked with the fatigue of a long day.

I knew before I'd even entered the building that I wasn't going to get a place on the course. A few days earlier, in a disastrous example of my famous good reasoning and sound judgment, I asked to be dropped from the Higher Product Design course at my school - I became bored of consistently failing to design an electric snowboard to their burdensome standards. I needed an A and three Bs at Higher to secure my place at university, and dropping that subject reduced my four potential Highers to three. I still have the email telling me that this was "insufficient for entry."

A feeling of inadequacy set the bar for what I was set to feel on results day. My calamitous miscalculations left me devastated. I was lazy at school: unmotivated and underachieving in fifth year; apathetic and chancing in sixth year - I had squandered a second chance that I had promised myself I would make the most of.

There is a misconception amongst young people that university is an exclusive, elitist, Etonian-style establishment, where everyone wears robes and fancy hats on a daily basis - this stems mainly from the Hollywood depiction of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. Admittedly, I have never been to any of these famous institutions, but I am willing to put a large sum of money on not bumping into someone looking like a Vatican nobleman on dress-up night.

I scurried soon after to my school's career advisor to advise me on what to do. Furiously clicking at her computer looking for courses, she pointed me in the direction of Cardonald College, whose recent renovation didn't make up for the fact that it takes me around seventeen busses just to get there. Déjà vu struck as I stormed the interview and admittance tests and received a conditional offer, as though I had missed the journalism room and entered the regression hypnosis room.

"If you get a B for English," said my interviewer, "you'll have secured your place on the course."

An odd combination of immense relief and a pessimistic disgust reduced my "thank you" to an indecipherable squeak - I had already sat my exams and I was less than optimistic, but I was willing to pretend that there was still hope for my education, which in my head meant I could justifiably enjoy my summer holiday. Alas, the summer came and went quickly, and results day approached like a lion ready to ambush a zebra in a David Attenborough documentary.

I called the college to confirm that I was "unsuccessful in achieving the course conditions," or as I shrewdly abbreviated, had "failed my exams." When they asked me to clarify my results, the receptionist passively and cheerfully informed me that if I were to photocopy my results certificate and send it to the college, my application would be reconsidered "based upon my performance" - I was beginning to feel like an X Factor contestant. To show my keenness, I even took the seventeen busses and delivered the unflattering duplicate in person. It was an encouraging coda to a symphony of shortcomings, but days later, my achievements were once again branded "insufficient." I began to wonder if journalism was an unrealistic career choice, a feeling of excitement and determination having been replaced with a feeling of incompetence. I was at a music festival when I received this news, but at that moment I felt more like Charlie Patton of the Delta than Charlie Reid of the Proclaimers.

I'd never really considered why I was so impatient when it came to my "further education" - I certainly hadn't been so enthusiastic about any other kind of education. Perhaps, as the philosopher Alan Watts put it, I was chasing a carrot on the end of a stick, thinking of life by analogy as a journey. Perhaps I felt entitled to it, having had the word "potential" hammered into my head by almost all of my school teachers. In reality, I think the amount of time and opportunities that I had wasted had finally hit me, and I became consumed with an urgency to claw back whatever I could reclaim.

I felt there was no other option than to visit a local careers centre. There, I was shown the clearing list of courses with possible last-minute places, and had a course at the City of Glasgow College pointed out to me. It was an HND in Media and Communications, and my name was added to what I assumed was a long and competitive reserve list. I was told to sit by the phone and pray for good news.

Three years, an HND and an invaluable gap year later, and I'm getting ready to start university to study politics - not a course that my qualifications limit me to, but a course that I want and chose to study.

If you find yourself dangling off the cliff like I was, remember that your future isn't easier said than done. If you are as impatient as I was, slow down. If there aren't any opportunities, create them. If you feel like this is the end of the road, know that it isn't. If you keep your chin up, your eyes peeled and work hard, you'll be alright.