It’s A-level day, and for every newspaper front page showing successful students jumping for joy, there will be others who have not received the grades they expected.
Many of us can still remember the anxiety of results morning, followed either by relief and celebration, or a sense of disappointment and “What now?”
After years of preparation and hard work, not getting the results you need for your choice of university can feel catastrophic. It can feel like those three (or four, or five) little letters will define the rest of your life. Whether you yourself are receiving results, or you’re supporting someone who is, we’ve sought advice from the career specialist who designed our courses for students on what to do next:
Firstly, take a deep breath and don’t panic. It’s a cliché, but the way in which we deal with failure is a more meaningful indicator of success than never failing in the first place. As difficult as it may be, try to remain calm and congratulate or commiserate with others.
Don’t suffer in silence, however. As embarrassing as it might be to admit failure or disappointment, your parents, teachers and friends will all have experienced a similar situation at some point and can help you to overcome it.
Don’t suffer in silence: parents, teachers and friends will all have experienced a similar situation at some point
Secondly, speak to your teachers or UCAS (see below) and sound out your options – whether it’s an alternative university or subject obtained through clearing, re-sitting your exams, requesting a remark, or taking a year out to work, travel and consider your next steps.
Despite what your studies may have led you to believe, remind yourself that university is by no means the only route to career success. This week we’ve been assessing outstanding candidates for a vacancy of our own, many of whom did not attend university as undergraduates. We were more interested in their experience, portfolio, attitude and communication skills than in grades and certificates.
You might think that obtaining experience is going to be impossible without good grades, but it’s rare that this will be the case. Having a clear idea of what you want and ensuring this comes across in applications is the first step; networking with confidence is the second. While it sounds like the most banal kind of corporate-speak, all we mean by ‘networking’ is talking to people and asking politely for advice or help.
any work will be useful if you can make the most of the opportunities it generates, even when they’re not immediately obvious
Lastly, treat all experience as having equal value. Whether it’s a two-week work placement, an apprenticeship or a summer job, any work will be useful if you can make the most of the opportunities it generates, even when they’re not immediately obvious. Aspiring interior designer stuck doing bar shifts? Who knows how many of your customers may be looking for help with a renovation project. So smile and make polite conversation, ask questions, and those opportunities will reveal themselves.
Assuming you’re fed up with letters of the alphabet by now, here are some numbers to ponder instead:
0: the number of leading UK professionals we interviewed, out of 78, who mentioned ‘qualifications’ as something they look for in new recruits. Confidence, positivity, resilience, common sense, good manners and a willingness to learn were a few of the attributes cited instead.
5 (billion dollars): the estimated net worth of Sir Richard Branson, who left school at 16 with 3 O-levels (GCSEs).
1: the number of O-levels obtained by The Lord Sugar, whose fortune was estimated last year at £1.15 billion.
85: the percentage of job success deemed to come from having well-developed people and soft skills, with only 15% attributable to technical skills and knowledge (more information here).
0808 100 8000: the UCAS Exam Results Helpline, which can provide help and advice on next steps