Missing your grades ISN’T a big deal
You’re not as thick as you think…
There is a common misconception that every single person that attends Cambridge University is a certified genius, who all excel in their extracurricular fields and are the best in the world at chess, or rowing, or ultimate frisbee (because that’s a thing?). Arriving with my biggest talent being I can fit an entire Flake in my mouth horizontally, I felt almost fraudulent. Mainly, because I missed my grades. Yes, you read correctly. I, a Cambridge student, am not as “clever” as a Cambridge student should be.
Let me take you back to 17th August 2017, A Level Results Day in England and Wales. I joined the long queue which snaked up the cold, steel steps in the college reception to pick up my results. It was like queueing for a ride at Chessington World of Adventures, only much, much shitter. And that’s a mean feat. Not that I have a problem with Chessington World of Adventures, I just think that maybe they should take a leaf out of Legoland’s book when it comes to reinvesting their annual profits. I hadn't checked UCAS Track yet as my mother had encouraged me to have a real-life "seminal moment", which as you can imagine, didn't quite go to plan.
I can see my tutor, Felicity approaching me. Do not be fooled by the delicate sounding name; as charming as this grey haired, bespectacled lady, who wears crocheted jumpers embroidered with owls, may seem, I have never met a more no nonsense person in all my life. When I was applying to Cambridge, she asked me how I felt about the prospect of going to an all girl’s college.
In truth, I internalised a thought of, “God no! I find it difficult enough to pull as it is, I don’t want to limit my options further” but replied with an, “I’ve never really considered it”. I was not anticipating the following response of, “I know what you’re thinking but one word; brothels. Boys are like flies to honey there, so I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you”. But today she didn’t have the usual glint in her eye. “Do you know?” I asked her, eagerly.
“3As”, she replied.
I have never heard anyone deliver the news of someone receiving straight As in such a sombre way. She could have told me that my house had been burned down by Piers Morgan and her tone would have remained the same. Apologetic. Sincere. It was like I was standing behind a thick, PVC wall; I could see her lips moving and I was nodding and smiling and saying “Okay” but I don’t think that I meant any of it. I opened the white envelope and stared at the three vowels before me.
I so didn’t want to be that tosser that cried over not getting an A*, but I’m afraid that I was because that A* was the difference between everything falling into place and everything falling apart. It was when people saw me; my friends, their parents, my teachers, that I felt the worst. The most embarrassed. “Did you do it?!” and I can’t blame them for asking, can I? They were just being lovely, but I replied with a shake of my head and a “But I’m totally chill!” through gritted teeth and tear-stained cheeks.
That day, emails were sent, remarks were filed for and all I could do was wait. I went out in the evening, though. I didn’t drink much, which is odd for me – I’m usually a goner by 10pm. I felt weird for the duration of the night – all of the people I was with knew where they were spending the next three years of their lives. I didn’t.
I don’t like feeling left behind and nobody exclusively made me feel as such, in fact everyone was rather wonderful; I’d never had more pep-talks and hugs than I did that evening and as marvellous as it was to have my ego stroked, that didn’t stop me from trying to refresh UCAS Track at half past two in the morning in my local Walkabout.
I eventually found out the following day at around half four. I was in the car with my mum and when the “ping” of the email sounded. Hysterical, is the word that springs to mind. I screamed so loudly, she nearly crashed the car. I’d never felt relief like it (well, except maybe that time I went to the loo after I held a wee in for the whole of “Saving Private Ryan”).
There is a point to this, I promise. I was expecting to some sort of academically-subpar-human, purely on the basis I missed an A* by 1.5%, but I was genuinely shocked by how many people had the same, or at least a startlingly similar, experience to me. Of course, I’m by no means saying not to try hard for exams, but it should be wider publicised that your A-Level results are not the be all and end all and that there is some leeway.
Entry requirements are scary, especially for Cambridge, but they are only set that high to see how far you can be pushed. They recognise a good candidate when they see one and if they want you that badly, you'll get there. That being said, your grades do not define you, nor does where you go to university. *Mum voice* Just try your best, that’s all anyone can ask for.