A-level Exam Results – accepting university offers

A-level Exam Results – some truths as you decide on university

For the first time in three years, A-level exam results that are based on proper exams are released this week. As we do every year, we will see images of jubilant young people with glee on their faces, and their rather proud parents so delighted. The reality this year is that a lower proportion of young people will receive the top grades at both A-level and GCSE. The reason is that fewer grades will be awarded as A and A*, in 2022 and 2023 at least. This is because there was grade inflation in 2020 and 2021, as grades were awarded by teacher assessment. Thanks to the pandemic, top A-level grades went up by over 70% in two years.

Sadly, there will be a flip side to the picture of jubilant families I painted in the first paragraph above – as there will be many disappointments – perhaps more this year than in previous. One thing that makes matters worse for those who fall short of the required grades this year is the fact that top universities have a long list of candidates waiting from last year to take up their deferred places this autumn. This is mainly for popular courses – such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and many others. Here is a headline from the Guardian newspaper website: “Top UK universities ‘use secret waiting lists’ due to COVID uncertainty”.

The philosophical argument for going to any university to study any degree course…

On the whole, universities in the UK have a high reputation at home and abroad, as there are many universities that are ranked highly in the global university table. However, not all universities are highly reputable, and, with the exception of certain courses – mainly medicine related – the university you attend matters more than the degree you study. There are many misconceptions among young people who are perhaps not well-informed about universities and degree courses.  A combination of misunderstanding and powerful marketing by universities leads to frustration and disappointments a few years down the line. This is because many young people are persuaded to attend universities that employers, and society in general, value less.

There are a few courses that are generally perceived as leading to highly financially rewarding jobs: but they don’t. Some examples of those are: Architecture, Law and, yes, even Computer Science. In reality, these courses only lead to top graduate positions  if you study them at certain universities.

Personally, I take a philosophical approach to education, as I have found almost all forms of higher education learning to be very enlightening and allowing the young person to grow. However, the practicality of life is what most people find to be of a higher value to them and not the philosophical side of things. After all, most people have expectations of the type of jobs they want after graduation from university. McJob-type jobs, such as flipping burgers at McDonalds or stocking shelves at Tesco, are not what most young people had  in mind when they went to university. It is perfectly okay to do these kinds of jobs whilst at college or university, to earn a bit of extra cash, not when you have graduated with a degree. Aside from having a student loan of tens of thousands to repay, many find the situation demoralising and have a sense or worthlessness. They feel unvalued.

Something to think about

What I will say to young people is to think very carefully before accepting a university offer from just any university. I am a strong believer in the notion that the university you go to matters more than the course you study or the degree you get, when it comes to future prospects. You need not take my word for it; you can do your own research. We live in an age with so much information available; just make sure you use the right sources to find information. At the bottom is a link to the BBC website with an article that includes earning power based on the university attended. I must admit that this is a very complex matter but there are certain realities that cannot be disputed, and that includes the fact that, for the majority of people, the university you attend has a significant effect on job prospects and earning power.

Follow you passion, but…

We all have emotional attachments, and many have a passion about certain courses they want to study, and that’s fine. However, it has to be borne in mind that there are market forces in operation and that certain universities and certain courses are more marketable than others.

I will not be making specific recommendations about what the teenager should do when they get their A-level exam results. However, I have a relatively short list of recommendations that they may find helpful in making an informed decision, given the importance of this matter.

  1. It is helpful for the eighteen-year-old to have an idea what he or she wants or where they want to be in say five to ten years. It is okay if you are not sure about what you want, but think about where you do not want to be and how to avoid it
  2. In case you happen to be ambitious or have high aspirations, and you are still unsure exactly which course to study at university, this is perfectly fine. Just be aware that, to a great extent, the degree course you study matters less than the university you attend
  3. On the whole, certain courses give you an advantage, as they increase your chances of getting a job. Outside medicine, in my view, those courses are: Engineering, History, Mathematics and Physics. No, not Law, Architecture or even Computer Science, unless you study any of those at a top university
  4. If you have an ambition to be a top lawyer, go and study History or even English at a top university and do a Law conversion course after your degree. This is better than studying Law at a less reputable university. In fact, it is better than studying Law as a first degree at any university
  5. If you want to be an accountant, go and study History, Maths, Economics or anything – preferably not accounting-related – at a top university. After graduation, do a professional chartered accountant course. This is better than studying accounting or accountancy for your first degree.
  6. If you are the academic type and want to be a businesswoman or a businessman, do not do Business Studies at university but do something else – like Economics, Finance, Physics or anything but Business for your first degree. Do an MBA or business-related course later on
  7. Do your research before you accept an offer from any university, as the university you attend matters more than the course you study or the degree you get. The offer of an incentive from a less reputable university is not worth its weight in gold!
  8. Attending a top university matters more than the course you study, except for medicine, and a very few other courses
  9. In my view, the order of university reputation is as follows: Oxbridge; Imperial and LSE; other Russell Group; Red Brick and old polytechnics (pre-1992 universities). This is a slight generalisation but it largely holds true!
  10. The very top universities are not for everyone, and you should be proud of whatever you’ve worked hard to achieve or where you find yourself; however, you owe it to yourself to give it your best shot before settling for whatever you end up with. That way, you’ll have a bigger smile on your face, and fewer regrets later on in life
  11. Finally, if you are determined enough and you are prepared to undergo personal development and acquire additional skills, irrespective of what you study at university or the university you attend, you will succeed – whatever your own definition of success is!

Good luck!

Waiting list of: deferred places at universities https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-58270387

Graduate earning power: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-38015829