Last week saw this year’s AS and A level students find out if their latest year of slog was worth it.
A levels, in the UK education system, are the academic courses taken by many students aged 16-18 in order to prepare them and fill the requirements for university and other higher education courses, apprenticeships and jobs.
‘Results day’ is traditionally on a Thursday in the middle of August, one week before the GCSE results are released for 16 year olds. Students nationwide receive their results on this day, and second year sixth-form students find out if they have been accepted into the university of their choice.
Talking to several A level students this year has led me to reflect upon my own experiences of further education, and the expectations imposed upon myself by my school and my peers.
Throughout high school I was an A-grade pupil. It didn’t come without effort, but I was lucky that my mum would help me with revision for class tests and standardised exams. With her help, I usually achieved good marks. Not that I was incapable of this without her help, but I would often lack in motivation and she would push me to study when I would rather play on The Sims or update my Aaron Carter fan site. (Yes, I was late to the lesbian party.)
(The Journal; September 1, 2004)
I changed my mind several times, during years 10 and 11, about what A levels I wanted to take and what I wanted to study at university. In hindsight, the fact that these were my career decisions at the time, seems odd to me. I think for most 15-16 year olds though, not enough is known about the ‘world of work’, the careers that exist and what they involve, in order for them to make a decision about a career path. So, a lot of the higher-achieving teenagers, especially, base their decisions on the subjects they do best at, and which school subject they most enjoy. That is what I did. It is not always a bad decision, but I would encourage people to also think what they enjoy doing out of school. If I could go back and give my 16 year old self any advice, it would be:
“Forget which school subjects you enjoy or are good at. Forget the expectations of teachers and the school, based on your grades and abilities. Think only about what you enjoy doing and what you are passionate about.
Your academic achievements should be there to help you into the career of your dreams, not used as a decider as to what career you should have.”
The career software we used at school predicted, time and time again, that my most suitable job would be a dog groomer. I laughed at this result, thinking it was ridiculous. I was an A-grade student. I would surely be a member of a prestigious profession. Right?
This concept of ‘superior’ careers and what high-achievers ‘should’ do, is what, in my opinion, needs to change. Thinking back to my 16 year old self, I most enjoyed spending time with my pets and walking rescue dogs. I volunteered at a cat rescue during the summer, and edited videos of my cats. I did a work experience placement in my local zoo. A career in dog grooming would be perfect for me.
Instead, I did reasonably well in my A levels and pursued a degree in Biology. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret going to university one bit. I enjoyed university life, benefitted greatly from my new-found independence and friendships, and I got an alright degree at the end. But I couldn’t get a job in the field, my modules were a pick from several different areas of the subject and the practical skills I obtained were thus also as random. I remain perpetually undecided and still wonder whether I should forget academia and work with animals. I really do recommend following your heart, not your results day transcript. Good luck kids!