Help Desk: Do I have to retake my A-levels?

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The Independent Culture
Dear Help Desk

I HAVE recently turned 20 and two years ago completed my A-levels in German (C), geography (C), French (D) and general studies (C). Perhaps foolishly, I decided not to repeat and have since travelled and worked in various places. I have now come to the stage where I want to further my education and I am interested in the media in general, but more than that I do not know.

I have looked at a few courses in broadcasting studies, but have been told that, even as a mature student, I should possess at least three Bs. I do not fancy taking the time to retread my A-levels as I want to move forwards, not sideways. I have been debating a short course gaining office skills - such as typing or shorthand, if it will help. Is secretarial college the answer?

Glen Johnson

Alexis Hallam, a consulting psychologist with Career Analysts Ltd, says:

Everyone experiences this kind of dilemma at some stage. The problem is solved by learning the skills of personal and career planning as early as possible. Qualifications, of themselves, do not determine what particular career we should pursue or what job we may be successful at or find our personal fulfilment in. However, they do give us access to options and opportunities. Whatever the level or type of qualification we have, we need to weigh up the kind of work that will best suit our qualities and needs so that we can redirect ourselves, or invest in the right qualifications - at as early a stage as possible.

To do this, you needs objective information about yourself and reliable, insightful information on career and working cultures. A professional career analyst trained in the processes and techniques of occupational psychology can help to identify your real aptitude, interests and personality to direct your potential into the right field.

Out of this you get a realistic plan for achieving accessible and relevant goals. This rationale produces clearer personal commitment, which in turn stimulates motivation, a sense of control and greater self-esteem. The benefits of this far outweigh the cost and, more particularly, the cost and waste of being on the wrong course or in the wrong job, or wasting time chasing completely unrealistic pipe-dreams.

Justin Kent, associate director of Major Players Recruitment Consultancy, says:

You have already started the process by looking into courses and establishing the media as an area of interest. Take that research even further! First of all, try to dissect the media industry. The number of industries and professions that are directly and indirectly linked to the media is huge, ranging from newspaper and broadcast journalism to public relations and advertising.

A media or general business studies course is a good way to do this. Your A-level grades are by no means bad and will not exclude you from further education. Choose a course that includes placement work or work experience. Your local library should have the Ucas (Universities and Colleges Admissions Services) book which lists universities and colleges, their courses and the entry requirements.

You also need to ask yourself what motivates you. Is it money, job satisfaction, an outdoor or an office environment? By establishing this you can become more focused on where you are going. Acquiring secretarial skills will certainly make you more employable, but if your ambition is to be a journalist then a journalism course is naturally more appropriate. Time is firmly on your side. Keep asking questions.

Pat Pearce, head of the careers service at the University of Westminster, says:

If you really do not want to repeat you A-level grades, it is important for you to find out what the going rate is for degrees related to the media in a variety of universities. My own university, for example, offers a BA in contemporary media practice which you can enter with two Cs. You will be asked not only about your A-level grades but also whether you have a portfolio of work to show, for example artwork, video scripts, TV and radio scripts. Perhaps you could spend some time preparing and combining this with a short course in IT.

If your career aim is the media, you do not have to do a degree in a media-related subject. You could do modern languages or philosophy, for example. However, any sector of the media would want to see evidence and motivation in your extra-curricular activities. Choose a subject you think you would be interested in and perform well at.