Keep calm and carry on

Russ Thorne finds four people who prove that missed grades are just a minor hiccup

Tuesday 18 August 2009 00:00

Take a gap year

Ayo Wallace, 19, didn't get the grades she wanted and decided to take a gap year instead. She spent three months on a volunteering project in a village in Fiji, organised by Lattitude Global Volunteering, a charity which offers bursaries and funding to young people who would otherwise struggle to raise the money required for a gap year.

"I knew that I hadn't done well. I'd had a tough few years in college. My teachers had tried to support me, but it just didn't work out the way I hoped it would. I was gutted, I felt disappointed in myself. I wanted to go to university, but I didn't have the grades. I just didn't know what to do.

Lattitude had come to our college on Choices Day, when everyone was picking their universities. When they explained about the charity and how they support their volunteers, and the opportunities available to people like me, I just thought: 'Wow, that's an amazing way to channel your energy' – particularly when you're not sure what you want to do. I thought a good way of moving forwards was to put my energy into doing something positive for somebody else, so I applied.

Nothing prepares you for volunteering. I was helping in the library, typing up reports, helping children with their homework. I really pushed myself. I'd never contemplated teaching, so it was an experience that made me grow up and made me more independent.

Volunteering overseas is definitely worth doing. It's all right to take some time out and have a breather. We grow up so fast; we're suddenly adults getting jobs or going to uni, but it's just a pattern that we follow because we think that's what we're supposed to be doing. Doing a gap year gives you time to know yourself and know the world a bit more."

Take an access course

When Dominique Baker's A-levels didn't go according to plan, she took an access to teaching and humanities course at Cornwall College Saltash, which gave her the qualifications she needed to get a place on a media studies degree course at University College Plymouth St Mark and St John, which starts in September.

"I was disappointed when I got my results, because all my friends had got what they wanted and were all celebrating, while I had nothing to celebrate. I just didn't know what I was going to do. It took me a few days to think about it, but I talked to my mum and realised I didn't want to get a job and I still wanted to go to uni. The only thing I could think of to begin with was retaking my last year at sixth form, but I talked to Connexions Direct as well and they suggested the access to higher education course.

The course is the equivalent of three A-levels, and it prepares you for the work at uni as well as helping with your application. It's also all coursework based, which suited me because I'm not very good at exams.

You can do it over one or two years – I chose one year. But it was something I really wanted to do. It was a lot of pressure, but when I found out that I'd passed I was really pleased with myself – to know I'd done it on my own. It was a great experience.

If you don't get the grades you want, definitely look into doing an access course. It's hard work, but it's worth it. For me, talking to my mum was a good thing on results day, as was talking to an adviser. But try not to get too stressed about it. There's always something else you can do and it's not the end of the world."

Get a job

Al Gosling, 38, went straight into employment when he missed his A-level grades. After several jobs and extensive travels in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, he established the global lifestyle and television brand Extreme at the age of 24.

"I opened that envelope and got a D and an E in history of art and business studies, which weren't particularly mind-blowing results, so I went straight out to work.

My first job was running for a sterling broker in the City, putting information on boards, running around, doing low-level 'learn it' stuff. I was getting my foot in the door, and that's the key. I got lots of jobs in lots of different areas, from telecommunications to the music industry, and that gave me a base to build a business on. The frontline experience definitely helped me. When my friends came out of university I'd already been travelling and had set up Extreme.

Some students open those results and get completely freaked out, but there are a lot of people out there who didn't go to university and have done really well. Even if you don't end up going down the route of what your parents might want you to do, or what you'd laid out for yourself, it isn't the end of the world. If you've got the gumption and drive to go to university, then you've probably got it in you to find a job and work your way up from ground zero, or alternatively actually do something for yourself.

There are so many opportunities out there, so take a breath and step back. Think about going travelling, think about going to work. There are so many options, it's amazing. Value yourself highly, don't get worried, and don't think your results have shut everything down for you – it's a big world out there, so as one door closes another one opens."

Enrol on an apprenticeship

After failing to get the grades to study music at university, Emma Wensley, 29, got a place through Clearing. But it wasn't for her, so she dropped out, got some vocational and professional qualifications, and is now a client services director with a top digital marketing agency.

"When I didn't get the grades I wanted I was devastated. I'd had a tough year, but it was still unexpected. I didn't even get the grade I needed in music, my best subject, and that stopped everything. I went back to UCAS and all the prospectuses and started thinking, 'what do I want to do?' I got a place at Nottingham Trent through Clearing, doing joint honours in art and music. But I was only there for 10 weeks.

I went home and started doing admin for a little design company. They sent me on some secretarial courses and I did an Apprenticeship in business administration at Harrogate College, learning how a business runs and how to put processes in place. I really got into computing and managed to automate most of my job. The company was building websites for people, and that's how I got into the internet industry.

I went to work for a company in Leeds, working my way up from the bottom to management-level over five years. I did some professional qualifications while I was there, in marketing, advertising, self-promotion, and media buying. I was recruited to launch an online business for an insurance company, and then moved to where I am now.

Not getting the grades has probably been the best thing I've done. I've got so many more qualifications that I'm interested in, and I've had so much more choice. There's a lot of time to decide what you want to be when you grow up; you don't have to rush into it – I haven't decided yet. But I'm having a really good time finding out."

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