Going to university

Today is A level results day in the UK. A day when the future of thousands of 18 year olds is decided by a series of letters.

10 years ago it was my turn and I remember it like yesterday.

I went by myself to get my results. I needed BBB to go to Durham to study Ancient History. I got ABC. An A in Maths which I had worked so hard for. B in English Literature. And the C in History, the result of one disastrous module that the majority of our class, including me, failed.

I had mixed feelings at this point. I was pretty gutted with the C, having been accustomed to As and Bs through GCSE and AS level. But overall I was fairly positive – on points ABC worked out the same as BBB, so I thought my place at Durham was fairly safe.

I went home to tell my mum the news and from there we went to tell my dad. At the time he was a head teacher at another local secondary school so he was at work congratulating and commiserating his students. What happened after I arrived at his school is what I remember most about the day.

After telling my dad the results, he advised me to phone Durham to check on my place. I sat at his desk and made the call. Within a few minutes I knew my fate. There was no place for me at Durham. The C in history wasn’t enough for the course requirements. The argument that I had been building in my head that my overall points score was equivalent to BBB wasn’t heard. I was gutted. I cried and cried.

Then good old practical dad pulled me back around to the real world. There was no place at Durham and nothing we could do about it. What could we do next? Call my second choice, Newcastle. So I’m back at the desk and on the phone again. I’d taken a bit of a gamble on choosing Newcastle as my second choice as the offer wasn’t significantly lower than the one given by Durham. Newcastle wanted BBC for their Ancient History course and so, with my ABC I was in.

It was a crazy day. I’m sure it is for everyone. Some exceed their own and others’ expectations. Some get exactly what they hoped for. Some fall short. For everyone life changes and we don’t realise how much until we look back on it years later.

These are the things I know now:

  • My life would have been very different if I had got my expected grades, but not necessarily better.
  • I learned something very important about myself through my first and second choices of university – I thought I wanted/needed the closeness of college life that Durham could offer. It turns out I needed the anonymity that is provided by a massive place like Newcastle.
  • I found a home in Newcastle and it will always be my first choice city to live in.

None of this would have happened if I’d got the B I was predicted in History. So I tell people that one of the best things that ever happened to me was not getting the grades to go to my first choice uni.