10 Years Since I Began A Levels – What I Wish I Knew Then

She got on with her education. In her opinion, school kept on trying to interfere with it – Terry Pratchett.

Some things don’t change. I’m sitting cross-legged on a comfy chair with a cheap(ish) wine in a pint glass half balanced on my knee. I’ve just had a load of chocolate too, so stuffing my face is the same as it always was. But, a lot of things have changed and yet, in the crux of things, maybe nothing has at all. I’m still as hard a worker as anything, staying up all hours to get a piece of work finished, or trying to please everyone when I should be pleasing myself foremost… I’ve learned to do that more so now; the balance is almost level.

When I think that I was just beginning my A Levels a decade ago, it makes me want to scream with laughter or just scream. Ten years has flown. Since then, I have been and gone to university, graduated, travelled, had a bucket load of jobs, moved around, had a couple of relationships and seen my friendship circle shrink. I’ve learned a lot in the past decade, which is exactly what those late teenage years and early twenties are for: grabbing the world with both hands and learning a great deal that is more about life itself rather than the educational topics that are taught in a classroom.

That being said, I wish I could speak to my former seventeen year old self. I would tell her that the stories in young adult books are just that – stories. I would tell her that living life is sometimes far more exciting than reading a book indoors, but I would stress that it is also okay to miss that party or that gathering to read a book because if that is what you want to do, you shouldn’t feel guilty or uncool for doing anything but. I’d tell her to be more confident in herself, take leaps of faith and say yes more often and I’d tell her that everything, ultimately, will be alright in the end.

Mostly, I’d tell her to stop worrying. There is so much pressure on students to get the grades teachers deem them capable of, so much pressure of wanting to please parents and teachers, of wanting to prove to peers that they aren’t thick or dumb or uneducated when, actually, maths or science just might not be their strong suit. People have different strengths and it isn’t until university that we truly understand that. In school, students are expected to excel in every subject, or at least try to. I agree that there is no harm in trying your absolute best. Of course that is what anyone wants for their student, their daughter, their godchild, their friend. Nevertheless, the pressure to do well – especially when it is talked about on national news with students put on pedestals or dragged down with phrases like “all time low” – is astonishing. I’d tell her that, in a decade, nobody will ask you what you received at A Level and prospective employers probably won’t even ask you what you graduated from university with… if you decide to go.

University is the obvious next step for A Level students. I can’t remember a time when university wasn’t an option. I’d been prepared for it before I had even chosen my A Levels, perhaps even before I’d chosen my GCSEs, although I can’t remember the exact year. Trips to local universities and talks from the admin teams as well as university tutors and students were weaved in and out of the school years. Career talks were had. All of it led to the inevitable: applying for university and working towards the grades in order to get in and the sheer panic on the morning of results day, praying that you had done enough to get into the university that you chose, or any at all.

I loved university. I adored it. The four years I spent in higher education were some of the best years of my life. I certainly wouldn’t be living the life I am now if it wasn’t for university and that isn’t anything to do with the degree or the education aspect. University is more than a stepping stone to getting a job. Again, that is something I wish I had known: going to university and getting a degree does not automatically mean getting a job in your chosen career. As A Level students – or perhaps it was just me being stupid – we are spoon-fed ideals about going to university and then getting a job at the end of it. It happens for some people, but for many, it absolutely does not. Nevertheless, going to uni teaches you invaluable skills like looking after yourself, living away from home (if you choose to do so), broadening your horizons, making decisions for yourself and facing the consequences (and the headaches) the next morning. But, it is not for everyone and I wish there was more advice open to students before the crunch time of results day when emotions are high and panic sets in.

I’d tell my seventeen-year-old self to never wish her life away, that the words mum and dad speak are the truth: life is short; time flies once you get older. I’d tell her that the mistakes she made in school, in love, in friendships and in life will be forgotten about in ten years time and not to stress about the little things. And if they have been remembered an entire decade later, they are either laughed at over a bottle of wine, or a lesson learned, so be glad that mistakes are made, even if it feels like the end of the world at the time.

What do you wish you had known during your A Level at the age of sweet seventeen?

Love, Faye xo

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