I wrote a spontaneous tweet this morning to all those getting A-level results today and based on the breaking news that fewer students are getting a C or above, it got me thinking. What would I tell my 18-year-old self if I could? And if I say it to one of today's A-level students, would it make a difference?
Yesterday I spoke to someone who said they joined the Navy straight out of school. They’d have joined at 16 if they could have because they wanted to travel the World. They knew right there and then what they wanted to do... lucky them.
When I got my A-level results at 18 I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I was lost. Deep down I’d always wanted to be a writer but I never thought I’d realistically make a career of it.
I remember results day well. I drove to college with my friends in my classic Mini and, to be honest, I wasn’t that fussed about my results. I studied English, media studies and theatre and I’d decided quite late on that I wanted to go to uni (partly because I had no idea what else to do and partly because I discovered American Studies was a degree and I’d get to study in America). I'd flicked through the UCAS catalogue starting at “A” and never made it to “B”. My mind was made up.
I’d already decided to go to University College Northampton (now University of Northampton) as it was close to home (I was in a serious relationship at the time) and they’d made me an offer based on my predicted grades, which weren’t good because I didn't work on my AS-levels. I only needed two Es to get onto my chosen course and I was predicted Cs. I got two Cs and an E in the end.
At the time, the relationship I was in blinkered me. It was all I really cared about. But in my second year my English teacher told me I’d fail if I didn’t pull my finger out, which scared me into putting the effort in. I got ONE MARK off a B in English which still irks me.
So off I went to Northampton, and South Carolina, and university sparked something in me that (little did I know at the time) would define my future career. And I started working because I'd finally found a subject I cared about.
For those who don’t know, American Studies combines history, politics, popular culture (we studied The Simpsons), film and sociology into one degree, but focused on life over the pond. It was perfect for me because, as I said, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and it gave me a taste of several subjects with the cultural experience to boot.
During my semester at Winthrop University, SC, I had to write a series of articles comparing American and British life. I wrote about advertising, food, culture (or lack of), my fellow students, etc. And I loved it.
After I graduated in 2005 with a 2:1 (hons) majoring in American history, I was once again lost. I didn’t know what to do next. I even looked at doing a masters in America but the cost put me off.
Eventually, I applied for a job as a junior reporter at my local newspaper. Those few articles I’d written in 2004 had resuscitated my flare for writing and combined it with a passion for culture and I wanted to pursue it further.
I trained on the job for a couple of years before upping and leaving for London (10 years ago this week as it happens) to do my journalism qualifications and, the rest, as they say is history. ..
You can read more about it on the about us page.
But, as the title suggests, the point I really wanted to hit home in this blog is this; your A-levels don’t define you. And to an extent, neither does your degree. Or even your first job (mine was in merchandising at Harley Davidson - a story for another day).
I often wonder “what if” I’d chosen a different uni or a different course. I’d have different friends and maybe a different life which makes me sad to think about. I’m glad I chose the path I did.
I was told doing American Studies was a waste of my time. That I should study teaching or law. But it helped me to find what I was good at. And next month I’m going to Dartmouth to report on the Mayflower 400 celebrations that start this Thanksgiving. So I suppose it did amount to something in the end...
And therefore the only advice I’d give myself (and to you) is to carry on doing what you’re doing, work at it and set your own path. Because it all turns out alright in the end.