A-levels: How to make some lemonade when you get handed a lemon

This is the time of year when students either celebrate success or drown their sorrows as the standard debate takes place about are these exams getting easier? And did Northern Ireland come first? Are you getting into the University of your first choice?

It was August 2007 when it my turn to open up that envelope and find out the grades that would determine the next few years of my life. When I was at school, there was an unquestioning consensus that you had to go to university, I mean everybody else what doing it, so why the hell shouldn’t I?

The whole experience was unusual for me as nobody in my family had gone through third level education before. This lack of experience of university applications and my own stupidity led to me mucking up my choices for university as I only ended up filling out three of the six possible choices available on UCAS (Even at the time of writing this I still shudder at this error in judgement).

So, naturally when I got my results and scored a little bit lower than what I was expected to do my options for study dramatically narrowed. Like anyone in that situation I panicked as by this time I was fully signed up member of the university consensus and felt that if I didn’t get in I would be a monumental failure. Thinking back on that moment and the days that followed all I can remember is the real sense of drift that I felt and I before you say it, I know it was only university but when you have the expectation placed on you and the notion drilled into you that this is the ultimate destination the panic that I felt was not entirely misplaced.

While I panicked, I was lucky that members of my family didn’t. Sensing my huge disappointment, my mum just simply sat down beside me and said “well, what are we going to do now?” This doesn’t sound like much of a statement, but at that time the notion of “we” gave me the first sense that I wasn’t alone in this process. To have somebody help me get up off the matt was something that was invaluable in helping me proactively find a resolution. The two of us sat down with a piece of paper and we developed a plan about what I could do. My brother had noticed on their website that the University of Ulster where still accepting applicants for their Politics course through clearing.  I had visited the Jordanstown campus while at school and it never actually occurred to me to ever apply to do my degree there as my interests always lay in the South. But I took a chance, put my name forward and thankfully a very open minded department accepted me. They took a real punt on me and gave me opportunities that still benefit me to this very day. I got the chance to be taught by and eventually work with some brilliant academics. From the moment I walked in on that September day in 2007 to the when I left in December 2013, I experienced events that not only shaped my politics but also allowed me to work in areas which I love.

The moral of this story is that you will hear a lot over the coming days that it is not the end of the world if you don’t get the grades that you want and that is true. I always remember hearing George HW Bush say that it was actually his failures in life that defined him far more than his successes and while I perceived not getting the grades I wanted or not getting my first pick as a failure, it actually turned out to be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things that ever happened to me.

If you open that envelope and don’t get that acceptance email; don’t sweat it too much. There is always another university and another year to apply. I have taught hundreds of politics students and there is no difference between those students who went straight from A-level and those who had to wait a year or two. Use tomorrow’s experience as a chance to learn and think about what you want to do. Just always keep in mind, things have an odd way of working out, just be proactive and positive about what you have and what you can do.