The A-level results day is looming. Most students will be very happy with the news. Those who won’t achieve the required grades, they will have to take some decisions. As George Clooney’s character Chris Kelvin (the protagonist of the sci-fi movie Solaris) says: “There are no answers, only choices.”
With the advantage of looking back and thinking what I could have done differently, I’d like to share with you six (harsh) choices I suggest you consider. You may agree with me or not. It is up to you to decide. Irrespective, I’d be happy if you think of them for a moment and happier if you just let me know your thoughts.
1. Failure vs. Opportunity
There is no doubt that life has its ups and downs. However, how we deal with them can make all the difference. So, you either start beating yourself why you didn’t study more and feeling depressed or you get your act together and think what you can do from now on.
Remember: you may be better off than those who have chosen the wrong subject. I ended up studying a subject that I soon realized that it was not for me. So maybe if I didn’t get the necessary grades, I might have given it another thought.
2. What vs. Why
You may be inclined to find a place at a university asap. Making decisions while in panic mode doesn’t usually help. Take a pause and think why you want to study in the first place and what you expect to get out of your studies. Try to think 10 years ahead. Which degree will help you to get there?
To be honest, it is not that easy to find the ‘why’. I studied Agricultural Engineering to follow the family business. There was a ‘slight’ problem though: I was not passionate about that field whatsoever. Hence, although I graduated, I never used what I learnt from my studies. If I had to choose again, I would have done it differently.
3. Employability vs. Overall Knowledge
Academics cannot agree on what universities are for. Nevertheless, you need to be clear what university is for you. Do you want to get the skills that will make you more employable? Do you want to get exposure to various courses that will help you develop a well-rounded personality?
It is up to you to decide what you expect from a university degree. A word of caution though: given that the cost of higher education is very considerable, think how you can optimize the return of your investment (your money and your time).
4. Generalists vs. Experts
Until recently, many students were choosing to study a general subject because they wanted to keep their job options open and didn’t want to be pigeonholed in one area. Although this has been a good strategy up until now, it might not be in the future. Nowadays, there is a move from generalists to experts. Employers are looking for depth rather than breadth.
Although I have studied various subjects (my last degree was an MBA at MIT Sloan), headhunters are still calling me for opportunities in health economics. Why? The answer is simple: it is a specialization with high demand while the supply is low. So, if you want to increase your employability, find an up-and-coming area and become an expert in it.
5. University vs. Subject
Imagine you have a choice between a place at an Oxbridge university to study a subject you are not particularly interested in versus a place for a subject that you love and has future potential but the university is not very high at the league tables. What would you do? Each of the options has its pros and cons. It really depends on why you study and what you expect from your degree.
You need to be aware though that job prospects vary considerably across subjects. I would also suggest you choose an institution that will provide you with high quality of teaching. If you are unsure, ask people in the career path you want to follow whether they would hire somebody from the university you consider.
6. Now vs. Next Year
Well, if you have clarity about the choices above and you can get a place in a subject you are passionate about, that has good job prospects, and the university has a good reputation, then go for it. However, if you are not clear, you may want to consider either to get an apprenticeship or reapply the following year.
If you have to wait for one more year to get what you really want, it is worth the effort. My challenge to you is the following: do you really know what you want to do?
So, I really hope you get the A-level results you are aiming for. If not, think of the following quote: “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply, author of 2 books, consultant and speaker. She has worked in senior positions in the pharmaceutical industry for 12 years and has an MBA from MIT Sloan. Her b4iapply blog is recommended by The Guardian for professional development. She is the author of the book ‘b4iapply to uni’.