Stephanie Smith: Whatever happens with your A-level results, you always have choices

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The word 'stress' doesn't begin to cover it. I'm talking A-level results, which come out tomorrow. If you are an 18-year-old, or a parent of one, you won't need reminding.

For some, it will be a day of relief, heart-bursting delight or perhaps surprise that you have got your grades, or defied expectations by exceeding them. For others, there will be disappointment. For a few moments – more than a few moments – it will feel as if the sky has shattered into millions of irretrievable pieces and the ground has dissolved into empty, lost dreams (I don’t suppose I’m making anyone feel better right now).

My own children and my nephew have been through the A-level-to-university process in the past few years, and each has had a different experience. If you get the grades needed to study your dream course at your chosen university, you’re sorted. You know where you will be in just over a month’s time (yes, so soon). Even if you don’t quite get the grades, you might find that you have been still accepted by your first choice. You too are sorted, in theory.

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If you do better than expected, you might be eligible for Adjustment, so you can apply to more prestigious universities than the one you already have a place at. Don’t feel you have to, if you are happy; there’s more to a university than grades – and being top of the class will do wonders for your confidence when you get there.

Students will be collecting their A-level results on Thursday - a day of relief, delight and disappointment.Students will be collecting their A-level results on Thursday - a day of relief, delight and disappointment.
Students will be collecting their A-level results on Thursday - a day of relief, delight and disappointment.

If you didn’t apply to university, but you get your grades and realise, actually, it’s time to fly, you can think about where you would like to go and phone them. You might be offered a place, even at one of the highest rated universities. Get packing.

If you didn’t get the grades you needed, it’s clearing for you. There are good courses at great places waiting out there. I’ve known several work experience students who found their path this way, and most would not have changed a thing. In fact, it showed them career possibilities they might not otherwise have considered.

Whatever happens tomorrow, you have choices, from retakes to rethinks. You might have to be pragmatic, you might have to take a leap of faith. Yes, you could make the wrong choice, but university is not prison. You can leave, learn, reassess.

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But do try university, if at all possible. This year, next year, when you can. If you find the right one, and you do yourself the favour of engaging with your course, if only because you know your degree will help you, university will be one of the best experiences of your life (although some days and aspects of it will be rubbish – expect that).

Your inner Homer Simpson might be saying: “Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” Ignore. Believe in yourself. And always, always try. Good luck.