I didn’t sleep the night before I got my A Level results. How could I? My whole future was due to be determined within a mere eight hours and I had absolutely no control over it. Sooner or later, my logical brain chirped in with: ‘You’ve worked hard – you’ll be fine. You always get nervous about results but they always go well. Don’t worry.’
Then, at 08:00 sharp, I crept downstairs and opened my laptop, logged into my UCAS account, and gritted my teeth as the buffering sign looped for what felt like eternity. When it finally loaded, the dreaded words appeared on my screen:
“You do not have a place at the University of Exeter.”
My eyes widened; my heart fluttered; I felt faint and dizzy.
Just like a wasp had stung me, I ran upstairs and grabbed my dad, who then drove me to my sixth form. In the midst of my sobbing, I had to think of an action plan.
First of all, I had to ask: Do I still want to go to university? Yes. I mean, there are other options.
Okay, this means I’ll have to go to your insurance choice – Oxford Brookes. However, there was one issue. I hadn’t really liked the university when I visited – it really was a last resort choice. So, if I didn’t want to go to Oxford Brookes, I would have to get permission from the university to be released into Clearing.
I really didn’t expect to end up in this situation.
Next on the action plan: find out what my grades are. By how much did I miss my offer for Exeter? Maybe I could negotiate with them?
I opened my envelope. BBC. Exeter had asked for ABB.
I didn’t understand how this had happened, but if I wanted to go to university that year, I would just have to work with what I had. My other options were to resit my A Levels all together or to not go to university at all. I could have done my A Levels all over again, but I was ready for university. I didn’t want to put myself through the unnecessary anxiety just to end up being a Fresher at 20. (Don’t rule the option out, though – this was my personal decision!)
Mind you, I was still sobbing at this point. It killed me to see everyone else jumping around with gleeful faces while I was led into the head’s office. However, I had to keep a clear mind, and so, with my cheeks covered in dried mascara, I entered the arena.
(Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic).
Top Tip: Prepare yourself for the worst. Luckily, my dad made me download the Telegraph’s Clearing app which had all the numbers I needed, right at my fingertips. I have a funny feeling that this year the Clearing process will be less competitive because of fewer university applications, but even so, it’s important to be quick because places do go! Having said that, I would advise against making snap decisions unless you have a huge change of heart. Personally, I stuck with the subject I had applied to do – Biology – but in the moment, I asked myself if I wanted to change subjects and do something like Anthropology.
The first thing I did was ring up university Clearing Helplines. They’ll ask for your UCAS number, your student ID (if you’ve already applied to the university but rejected it), your name, and your grades. It has to be you that they talk to on the phone (unless you give explicit consent for someone else to speak for you), for reasons concerning data protection. I was too anxious to make a phone call so I tried to ask my head of sixth form, but I was encouraged to make the calls on my own.
Yes, it was embarrassing stating those grades over the phone. But miraculously, when I rang up Swansea University, they offered me a place straight away, and I quickly accepted it on UCAS Track, after I had had a conversation with one of the Biology professors over the phone. Then, I just had to sort accommodation out, which was a quick and easy job, and by midday, I was officially going to university! Finally, I could breathe!
The stress of that morning exhausted me – especially as I was also suffering from anxiety – therefore it’s extremely important to take care of yourself. I mean it.
Fast forward a few weeks: I had my bags all packed, the car was loaded, and my dog had tried to jump into the boot to come with me to university! I think it was hardest leaving her behind!
After a two hour journey and waving off my tearful parents, I suddenly realised that I had arrived at a university I didn’t really know a lot about, and of course, I was anxious. Extremely anxious, in fact. As I mentioned, I had never expected to end up in Swansea for university. However, I also didn’t expect that this was only the beginning of a complete change in mindset. In brief, it was ‘Less of the snobbery, Amy, please’, but I’ll elaborate anyway:
Throughout my entire academic life, I have always been hard-working. Some called me a boffin at high school, others called me ‘too deep’, but whatever was the most accurate way to describe me, I had always worked hard and succeeded as a consequence. That was a routine I’d settled myself in quite nicely. It worked for my GCSEs – I got 5A*s and 4As (and 1B – but I hated maths). I – rather arrogantly – assumed the same attitude would work for A Levels. Unfortunately, when I got those results, I realised that something was going wrong, and I didn’t understand what it was. I worked my arse off for my A Levels.
With the help of a life coach/therapist/counsellor, I backtracked and analysed my time at sixth form. I realised I had had a panic attack in every single exam bar my French speaking, and I got full marks by talking about the impact of French classical music on society. In other words, I had seriously underestimated the level of anxiety that I was dealing with, and it was all rooted in perfectionism.
Perfectionism isn’t something to underestimate. Small doses are necessary for motivation – rereading your notes until you understand them is a pretty effective revision technique. For me, however, it was not responding to feedback, not facing up to or dealing with my mistakes because for my entire life I had barely made any. I had never learned to recover from failure because I had never failed. I realised something had to change at university to prevent this vicious cycle taking over my life again.
My life coach helped me change my mindset. It was a wakeup call to find a way to practically and effectively deal with anxiety. Anxiety teaches your brain that there is only ever one choice – to panic, which I was doing in every exam I took, so there were practical steps I had to take for the ‘performance’ if you must.
Secondly, I had to find a way to improve my learning technique, because clearly, my current method of ‘being too scared to make mistakes’ wasn’t working. I wasn’t actually learning. In lectures, I ask more questions. When I get my lab reports and exam scripts back, I learn from my feedback. But most importantly, thanks to the freedom of schedule which university gives you, I’m finally able to strike a proper work : life balance. Being able to break up your time properly to suit how your brain works is remarkable. Yes, that means I tend to start revision at 6pm and finish at 2am, but it works (somehow) for me. University makes me so happy, even when I do have a million deadlines all somehow due in the same week! But also, my current university has helped me to accept that getting into my dream university wasn’t the end of the world.
Time to spin. Yes, I lost out on Exeter. Instead, at Swansea, I gained:
- Effective ways to manage my chronic anxiety, thanks to proper counselling
- Opportunities. Thanks to everything I’ve been involved with at university, I’ve gained a lot of work experience, from working in a science museum to showcase science to the local committee, to debating about the future of the EU at the European Parliament, to undergoing conservation work on Brownsea Island.
- Academic success. Overall, because I’ve been given the chance to reassess my learning methods, I’ve now changed my work ethic for the better. I’m now predicted a first after achieving over 70% for two consecutive years, and I’m planning on doing postgraduate study.
To conclude: “Quality, not quantity” is more important than you think. Failure can actually make you stronger, and how you react to a bad situation determines everything.
Good luck on results day tomorrow, but remember that it will be okay if it doesn’t go as expected. Life has a funny way of taking its own path with you. It’ll work out in the long run, in ways you’d never expect.
This all may sound clichéd, but it’s true. Trust me.