• Cara Goulding

A Levels and the Choices We Make

On Thursday people up and down the country will be waking up, rolling out of bed and heading to pick up their A Level results. After years of hard work and months of revision the time they have been dreading or anticipating has arrived. The grades they get tomorrow will shape their futures, will they make the grades to go to Uni or will they be stuck in some dead-end job for the rest of their lives because they didn’t study hard enough.

True or False?

In 2006, three months before I was due to sit my A-Levels I dropped out of college. My parents although horrified were understanding, I’d been given an ultimatum – either leave or we will kick you out. My grades had slipped, my English from A’s to F’s and I wasn’t attending classes preferring instead to hang out in the common room or the skate park. My AS Level grades had been awful, I don't even like to mention them, so far I had fallen. I rarely made tutor group and came up with a multitude of lies for missed homework. I also had zero interest in going to University, it didn’t appeal and I knew I didn’t have the grades to do the English Literature degree at Oxford that I had dreamed about. Instead I spent my time in the library researching world trips, before it was cool, and picking where I would go to first.

After I had made the decision to drop out I moved to Portugal for a year and had the best time, made some awesome friends and got my rebelliousness out of my system. I felt the biggest desire to escape for a bit, to do something that most other people hadn't done, and I needed to leave the family home for a bit and get some perspective. I realised how much work my parents did because I was suddenly having to cook every day and do the clothes wash. When I came back to England I had memories that will never leave me, but I also came back to a very different environment where all my friends were suddenly at University and I wasn’t. I didn’t have the grades to join either and so felt very much stuck and left behind and to be honest, at this point like people would perceive me as unintelligent because I hadn't gone to University.

So I came up with a plan. Whilst everyone else was at Uni I was going to work, I was going to pick a field where I knew there would always be opportunities, Administration, and I was going to get the experience over my Uni going friends. I still had no desire to actually attend Uni, which is strange because I love to meet new people and it would have given me that experience but the thought of it at the time just didn’t appeal to me. I was ok with that, my parents had accepted it, and all was fine. I just wasn’t going to get a degree and THAT WAS OK. Instead I was going to learn as many office skills as possible and become employable. And do you know what? This was fine for years, my friends were still going to Uni and I moved to Cardiff to join my best friend so I got to experience the fun side of University - going out every night with them whilst I still held down a full-time job. I look back at that time now though and wonder how I did it, but at the time it was easy.

In 2009 in a conversation with a work colleague, I was talking about how I had always wanted to do a Creative Writing course. This led to an idea that changed everything and I joined the Open University with a mind to take only one course. Once that was finished I took another, and then realised I only needed to do four more to get a degree by only spending approx. £1000 and coming away with no student debt. It was going to take a long time, a lot of hard work and I was going to have to push myself but finally in 2015 I walked across the stage to get my roll of paper feeling so proud of myself, and with my parents cheering me on. I had achieved a recognised 2.1 English Literature degree after all. Studying at the OU whilst holding down a full time job was hard. I’m not going to say it didn’t take a lot of work and it may have been quicker if I’d just sat my exams and gone to university but life is too short for ‘may have’s’. I took control of my own life and didn’t take the route that was expected of me. My life is no less rich for it.

There is so much pressure put on these (I don’t want to say it because it makes me sound old) young people to get the grades, to succeed, and yes studying for exams does equip you with great disciplines that you can take through life, but you aren’t going to end up in some low paid shit job just because you didn’t get a million A*s and go to Uni. Instead you just look at the other choices open to you. Take an apprenticeship, do work experience, get a job, go travelling, go to the OU, work abroad. You can always change your mind about things, do whatever feels right for you and don't let outside pressure in.

So if you are reading this and you feel nerves in the pit of your stomach about Thursday I’m telling you please don’t worry. Even if you think you've done appallingly, you have options. Life has a way of figuring itself out.

Cara x

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