Last night I was reading Emmi’s post of how it’s ok to fail, and it made me think about what I used to consider to be the biggest failure of my life; Failing my A-levels.
It was September 2014 when I first started college/sixth form and I was the mere age of 16. I can remember my first day so easily. I thought I was so grown up because I got to wear my own clothes, got to make my own way into college, got to leave the premises at lunch times, and had a massive ring binder which was totally empty at the time. 2 and a half years later at that’s just same old, same old now.
For the large majority of people who started college at the same time as me, they finished in June last year. They finished their exams, or handed in their last piece of coursework, got their grades, and off they went. Some of them at studying at universities all across the country now, others are in full-time work, and others are on gap years. But me? I’m back at the same old college, doing a third year of further education.
I’m not the only one in this situation; I know at least 4 people doing the same thing. And each of our reasons for doing this are different. For me, I sort of have two; I took A-levels in my first year of college and as I’ve mentioned in many a post, I got diagnosed with cancer a mere 2 weeks before my first exam was due. I decided to take the exams anyway, purely for something to do and because I’d put months of hard work in that I wasn’t just going to let myself fall at the first hurdle. That being said, I knew taking exams when I had a large cocktail is drugs called chemo running through me probably wasn’t going to give me the best results. So from the moment I was diagnosed, I got myself into the mind set of probably having to do a third year.
And I did. Technically I didn’t fail my exams, I got a C, D, and an E, which are all technically passes at A-level. However my college require you to have at least a D to carry on to the 2nd year, otherwise you have to retake the year. I had no choice but to take a third year. But it was all well and good because during the rest of my treatment I’d been thinking, and I’d decided the sciences just weren’t for me anymore. I wanted to do media instead. Originally I was planning to carry on with A2 English, drop the sciences, and take A-level media and another subject. But I couldn’t find a third subject I wanted to do. So I dropped them all and went for the BTEC diploma instead. So in a way it is a mix of the 2. Even if I hand’t wanted to change subjects, I still couldn’t progress to end year with my grades. Even if I could have progressed, I wanted to change subjects. Some people say I would never have had a change of heart hadn’t I had the diagnosis that actually made me think about it, and without the diagnosis I would have got good grades and progressed without a single thought. Which I guess is true. But that’s another debate. The most important thing is that I made the right decision in changing subjects, and I’m doing better than I ever have before.
Now like I said, I’m not the only one taking a 3rd year, and I’ve made some incredible friends since I went into new classes last year. But since September I have these occasional waves of loneliness. I see people I went to school with tweeting about university and I just feel so left out in it all. I get jealous because I want that to be me so much right now. And then I feel like a failure because that should be me, but it’s not because I’ve had to take this third year whether I wanted to or not, really. Granted it was never really my fault, but still, it’s just annoying.
But more recently I’ve felt more uplifted, like taking this third year has been a blessing to me. I’m 19 now and I’m a whole lot more confident in what I want to do with my life then when I first started college at 16. I’ve evolved more as a student than I would have than if I had just 2 years at college, and HOPEFULLY this will carry on at university. I was 18 last year, which meant all my drinking and messing around at bars and clubs was all done last year, which was good because my first year of my media course was relatively easy compared to this year. I can’t say I won’t get wrecked on freshers, but after that it’ll probably be it. As I learnt last year, going out every weekend drinking is not and never will be for me.
So all in all I’m glad I took a third year. It’s given me a chance to grow as a person and become more responsible before being thrown into the independent world you get thrown into when you move for uni. Trust me, if I’d finished college last year and was at uni now, I’d more than likely be wasting my student loan on silly little things. Of course I’m going to indulge from time to time, but I think I’m becoming a lot more savvy.
But I know there’s people out there who like me, are taking a 3rd year, or are facing having to take one for whatever reason. So I thought I’d share some little advice that helped me get through what is, at the time, some really shitty news.
- It’s not the end of the world. I know it seems like it now, but honestly, it isn’t. You will get through this, and you will be better for it.
- It’s okay to wallow in self pity for a bit. Get some of your favourite comfort food and eat it all, drown your sorrows in whatever kind of beverage you want. Cry to your mum, your dad, your best friend, whoever. But the pull yourself together and get on with it. As much as you may hate it, this is something you’re going to have to do whether you like it or not. And it’s a whole lot better to do it with a focused mind, then feeling sorry for yourself and hating the situation all the time.
- Take some time to think about it. As much as you love a subject, sometimes you just don’t gel with it. I loved science, and I still do, but it wasn’t something that was working for me. Even without the chemo, my grades in those subjects weren’t their best, not compared to my English anyway. And I just didn’t want it as a career anymore, I wanted as something I could look at, appreciate, and have as a sort of hobby. Just think, is the subject you didn’t do well at really for you? Do you still enjoy it or do you think you’d prefer something else? You’re starting afresh, don’t think you have to continue with something if you’re not happy for it. But if it’s still what you really want to do, then go for it!
- Do not beat yourself up about it. Sometimes these things just happen. At least this time you now you know what went wrong, what didn’t work, and how to go about it differently this time so you can succeed. There are such things as second chances, and they are amazing.
- You are not alone. I can not say this enough. It’s something I still need to tell myself constantly, despite 2 people in my own class being walking reminders of the fact. While it may seem lonely sometimes, there are plenty of people in the same situation as you. I’m not sure about sixth form colleges, but in FE colleges there are plenty of people re-taking years, or completely starting afresh. And they’re all of different ages. It certainly made everything a little easier for me.
- Focus this time round. I know most of these points I’ve tried to be nice and calm, but I don’t want to make you too calm so here’s some real talk; you really need to focus this year. None of us want to see you having to re-take the same year again when next September rolls around, let’s be honest. Not to mention that – if you live in the UK, at least – you only get government funded education up until the September AFTER you turn 19. Then you have to pay for it. So not only would it be annoying having to re-take again, it’s gonna be constantly. So hunker down and study!
- Don’t get jealous of your mates who are now a year ahead of you. This is something that I’m actually still learning really. I see my mates in big lecture halls, living in towns and cities across the country and I’m just like “OH SO YOU THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME NOW? WELL GO FUCK YOURSELF LINDA.” Okay so no one I know is actually called Linda but you get the gist. While you shouldn’t be mad at yourself for not doing so well and having to retake, you shouldn’t be mad at other people for doing better than you, either. It is what it is.
- Be the boss we all know you can be. So you fell down at a hurdle, just pick yourself back up again! You have your goal now, and you’re probably even more eager to achieve it now, too. So you go get it and you stomp down anyone that gets in your way (figuratively, though. Violence won’t get you anywhere).
So there we are, advice on what to do when you have to take a third year of college from someone who’s in their third year right now. It’s been a long time coming but I’m finally getting there. I already have 1 conditional, and 2 unconditional offers from the 5 universities I’ve applied to! Taking a third year can be totally worth it sometimes, and as you can see, it doesn’t hinder your uni application. Honestly, no one has even asked why I took a third year and changed fields. As long as you’ve got passion for what you’re studying now/choosing to study, they’ll want you.
Did you end up taking a third year at college? Are you facing having to take one? Share your stories below!