“What next?”

by On The Fly Blog

If I had £1 for every time someone asked me this question I wouldn’t need a student loan. Honestly.

Hello everyone! As I’ve mentioned previously, I was an A Level student until mid June when I finished exams, and on top of the crushing stress for revising, we also had to figure out our next steps. I’d be lying if I told you I was anything other than incredibly resistant at every stage of the process and I am truly glad it’s over.

It all started back in June last year when I was very unsure of what I wanted to do after Sixth Form. I started year 12 with a view to go on to study engineering in some form at university. That is, until I discovered psychology and that completely threw a spanner in the works. I gradually let go of the plans for engineering and embarked upon a period of indecision regarding whether I actually wanted to go to university at all, and basically questioned the career I’d been telling people I wanted for several years. I already knew I wanted to take a gap year so at the end of year 12 when my school ran some workshops for us, I attended the ones geared towards entering employment since I knew I’d be working for a while before uni. For some reason I couldn’t do both. This meant that when I started flapping and flailing about university applications, I felt very unprepared and uninformed about UCAS. And there started the resistance.

University open days

Due to my uncertainty, I not-so-wisely decided to just…ignore everything to do with university? So at the beginning of last summer when all my friends were booking open days I didn’t bother, right up until one evening where I panicked and decided that I should really have been checking out universities just in case. Thankfully, most of them also had autumn open days so I hopped online and booked a few.

Now, while this stopped my fretting, it didn’t reverse the fact that I started looking around very late in the game so I only visited six universities, five of which I applied to. My main requirements were: good sports facilities (I don’t think there’s a uni in the country that doesn’t have this), and option for a year abroad or on placement, and the option to drop modules and replace them with different ones (e.g. with modules of a different psychology course, or a different subject altogether such as Spanish).

the university of Birmingham
University of Birmingham

As you can see, the course itself actually wasn’t top priority for me; ultimately I don’t fancy practicing psychology so the content isn’t of utmost importance. All the ones I looked at offered courses accredited by the British Psychological Society, so the core modules were the same anyway. As well as this, I just enjoyed getting a feel for the place and deciding whether I could see myself living there for three years. I found that I preferred the campus vibe to a more open, city based uni. I checked out the libraries, the cafes, the bars, the students’ unions…just to get a feel of student life.

So where did I actually visit? First, Loughborough, then Warwick, followed by the Universities of Manchester, Birmingham, Northumbria and Bath. I loved all of them except Manchester; although I loved the city I did prefer the feel of a campus. So I applied to the other five, all for four year Psychology courses, and awaited responses. By this time most of my friends, many of whom had applied to Oxbridge, had received offers.

The dreaded personal statement

Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. In between university visits and homework I also had to write my personal statement. Who knew this one document could cause so much stress! There seemed to be so much pressure on the quality of the writing that I wasn’t even sure if it was a reflection of me or just a carefully crafted box-ticker. For most of my time in sixth form the teachers were incredibly helpful and approachable, but for some reason, due to bad luck or loaded timetables, lots of the people I specifically needed to speak to regarding the personal statement were nowhere to be found. I spent break and lunchtimes tracking them down, leaving messages with other department staff, sending off emails, largely without response. I was loathe to visit the careers department lest they berate me for being so behind where I should have been, and they had a reputation for figuratively ripping personal statements apart and practically rewriting them, so I stayed away. I had a draft, which was a start, but it was too long for the word limit and kind of boring, so I hit a wall with writing. Eventually, I found help from a family member who worked as an admissions tutor in a university for a while, and through several FaceTime sessions with her I gradually worked through the cloud of confusion and came to a personal statement I was somewhat happy with. She was unbelievably helpful and I am so so grateful for her input.

End of story! I wished…

Thankfully, I received offers from all five universities, albeit with quite high requirements. Of course, another deadline rolled around and I had to actually accept or reject those offers. It was all well and good choosing a broad five universities but actually deciding which one I preferred? In between revising refraction indices and the imperfect subjunctive? Once again, I left it too late.

My one saving grace was that I’d always had a gut feeling telling me to go with Birmingham or Warwick, and they solved the conundrum for me because Birmingham required higher grades, so that became my firm choice and Warwick my insurance.

The university of Manchester
University of Manchester

So I have conditional offers, I’ve met the application deadlines, and I’ve gumbled endlessly about the “stupid system”. The only thing left was to actually sit the exams…

Results day

Which takes us to 27th July, when I wrote the first post on here. And somehow, because July only lasted about a week, most of which was spent in Barcelona, here we are. 15th August. Results day.

I hadn’t really thought much about results day in the weeks leading up to it. Lots of people asked if I was nervous but the truth was I was in denial! In the week before, I was actually completely distracted because, believe it or not, I booked my driving test for THAT MORNING! So with the anxiety for that I managed to ignore the looming reality that was results day. It was Wednesday before I got really nervous, and even then that was mostly about the test. Thankfully, I was working that night so I could distract myself, but that didn’t really stop the sick feeling from hanging around in my stomach.

a large hall inside the University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham

I had also reached a point where I was so stressed during school that a small part of me simply didn’t care. A Levels are over and the outcome doesn’t matter because I never have to do them again. I’m just happy I never have to return to that turmoil.

Thursday morning, I was ready to throw up. I don’t know how much was test nerves and how much was about results, but I hadn’t been that nervous for a long time! After LOTS of stress (namely the car not starting minutes before my test), and some great support from my parents I passed my test, and my mum and I went straight from the test centre to school to get my results. I passed all my A levels with really good grades, but I knew that I had slightly missed out on both my offers. After catching up with friends and sharing some hugs, I went home for a good ol cuppa and to figure out how desperate I was for a university place – after all, I had a year to sort it out and I wasn’t about to spend all day on the phone trying to sort a place at a university I’d never visited before, just for the sake of having one.

The thing was, when I logged into UCAS Track…Warwick had accepted me! Which meant that in the space of a couple of hours, I could drive, I had 3 A levels and a university place!

Honestly, I was just so overwhelmed with relief. The main thing that probaly set my day apart from others’ was that university isn’t absolutely essential for me, and I actually didn’t mind which of my offers I managed to achieve, so just to know that I have the place confirmed was the biggest weight off my shoulders!

a grand stone building which is part of the University of Manchester
University of Manchester

On reflection…

That said, I’d be lying if I said I am completely happy with my grades. Although they’ve got me where I need to be, there were a couple that I would have liked to be a little bit higher. I haven’t really said that to many people – for some reason I felt the need to appear over the moon in front of everyone on results day. I hate this culture of sharing and comparing, where people desperately feel the need to know what results everyone else achieved. I think it’s unhealthy and doesn’t allow us to move forward. Schools should do more to get students to understand that grades and success are all relative, and another person’s standards will most likely not match up to your own. Just as an Olympic sprinter would be disappointed with a time that would sent me ecstatic, so some students would feel let down if they got my grades, while others would be over the moon.

After some deliberation, I’m going to send a couple of my papers off for a remark, but if the worst comes to be, I’m still very proud of my results, my uni place, and all of my fabulous friends, whose own journeys have been every bit as emotional and difficult. Exams are a very individual process, and after two incredibly difficult years, I’m just glad that A levels are done and behind me now.

All this doesn’t actually answer the question of what next? I start my Psychology course in 2020 at the University of Warwick, but until then, I have some adventures to plan! I’m currently enjoying working and saving up money and I’m looking forward to sharing what I get up to in the next year!

This has mostly been a long ramble about the UCAS system and doesn’t really bring any profound insight to the table, but it definitely has been valuable to me to write it all down. If anyone has questions about the exams, the application process or anything else please do ask!

Congratulations to all for completing exams, and best of luck to anyone still awaiting results.

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1 comment

Thoughts ~ friends going to uni - On The Fly 21/05/2020 - 14:12

[…] much as possible in the coming year, is the reason why I’m sure that a gap year is what I need. I’m still deciding whether university is the right path for me, and this is the space I need to decide […]


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