It’s A-level results day. Whether you are a woman jumping in the air, a man out-performed by your female classmates or one of those rare language students, I hope it’s a fun day for you. On my results day, we got chucked out of a pub for trying to steal a poster from the loos and in the next pub I got an electric shock from the light above the pool table.
The thing that the headlines, the analysis and the reams of angry bile produced around this time of year pretend to be about, but in reality ignore, is that results day is about thousands of very personal triumphs, tragedies and turning-points.
My results day was about all three. Well, I say day, my story is really about two results days and their consequences. I wanted to be a vet right from the age of eight, having watched James Herriot on TV (and subsequently read all the books). I choose my A-levels accordingly and worked towards getting onto the correct course. Looking back I should have worked harder at times, I should have done more varied work experience, I should have sought someone to give me proper interview experience. But, as they say, hindsight is 20:20.
So on my A-level results day, I didn’t have a place at university, but I had a plan for a gap year and I had high hopes. My A-level grades didn’t disappoint, they were good enough for another go at getting onto a veterinary course. My day was an odd one: I was delighted with my grades, most of my friends had got into their courses and we headed off to have fun in my home town. However, they were all going off for a new adventure, it was all planned out. I was going to stay at home for a bit and earn some money to go travelling. And I was going to reapply.
To roll on a year to my ‘second results day’. I was in the same situation, although this year there were no results to pick up and my parents and sister were all on holiday. My interviews had gone badly, I didn’t get offered a place on a veterinary course. I had nowhere to go, but my mind was made up – that year I ‘had’ to get a university place. I rang the veterinary departments, those that did pick up politely informed me that they had no places in clearing. I went out and bought the Independent, which had the clearing list as a supplement. I cried. I kicked one of my parents’ plastic flower pots until it broke (I have never claimed to hard-core!).
I did nothing except stare at the paper for a while. In fact I did nothing all weekend. It wasn’t until the Monday that I started to phone around universities. My criteria were simple. I wanted to do zoology – it seemed a broad biological degree and sounded cool (in my mind) – and I had to recognise the name of the university without looking it up. As I phoned the two departments that fitted this bill, there was a pang of excitement, after the initial reserved small-talky questions they asked my grades and, when I replied, said yes, they would send me the registration forms.
The Monday evening, my parents came home from holiday. I told them that there were two train tickets booked to a station in Scotland called Leuchars for the next day. I didn’t care which one of them came up to St Andrews, but I wanted one of them with me to give me their opinion. The next day, I had a tour (of sorts) of the biology department building – a display on historical equipment in the foyer, the ‘dead animal museum’, a teaching lab and two lecture theatres – before the admissions tutor handed me the relevant forms to sign.
When I handed back the forms, neatly signed, there was an odd feeling. One of huge excitement, of relief and of trepidation. In short, that feeling that my classmates must have felt a year or so before
Strangely, about two months ago I went back into that building to start a post-doc. There are times that I regret that I didn’t make it into veterinary college, there are times when I wonder why I didn’t put other choices on my UCAS forms. In the weeks that followed signing those clearing forms, I wondered whether I had made a huge mistake, but I really don’t think I did. I might have made some different choices with different advice and more maturity, but I certainly don’t regret any of them. They have made me (for better or worse) who I am today.
That’s the thing about results day, it’s a mosaic of different, very personal, stories. And that one is mine. I apologise that it’s a rather long, self-indulgent blogpost, but I get fed up with A-level students being used as political footballs on results day. We need to remember that each one has their own story and their own life, and I wish every single one of them all the very best of luck with it.