Today is the day when hundreds of thousands of A-level students get their exam results. All across the country they are variously terrified, shocked, delighted, surprised, thrilled, incredulous and disappointed. For some it is simply another milestone reached exactly as expected, on their journey into a career. For others it is certainly a milestone… but perhaps “turning point” would be a more accurate description.
For many students, today marks the end of their dream. Failure to achieve the required exam results means that they cannot progress to their chosen university. It might mean re-sitting exams next year; it might mean going to a different university to read something completely different; it might mean a complete change of tack, and not going to university at all. In most of these instances, students will regard today as a setback, and for some they will feel it is the end of the world, a dream completely shattered. It may indeed be a major setback, but humans are remarkably resilient. Setbacks become opportunities, which become new dreams and new challenges. Over time, expectations change as those new dreams take shape and come to life. What once seemed like the end of the world will soon be just a turning point.
It is easy for wise heads to look back and see many turning points in their own lives – times at which something significant happened. Maybe a birth, death or marriage; or a job change or sudden opportunity overseas. As we become older and more experienced, we see how these instances present “timeouts” – opportunities to reflect and react. Younger people don’t have that experience, and are not as capable at handling timeouts. After all, apart from deciding which subjects to study, students generally don’t have to make many “really big” decisions before they leave school. They might not agree that today’s results merely mark a turning point, and they will need a great deal of support from friends and family. The quality of that support is likely to be just as important to them as everything they’ve done for themselves until now. It is likely to be a key part of their short-term recovery and longer-term transition to a new dream.
The press will quote pass-rate statistics throughout the days and weeks which follow, explaining how it is all much easier today than it was twenty years ago. Whether they are right or wrong, it is all completely irrelevant to those students. The lucky ones don’t care – their dream continues; the unlucky ones don’t care – they need a new dream. And support.