Own your journey

If you’re at college or sixth form in just over a month you’ll be getting your A Levels.

You’re probably stressing over getting the university of your choice, or even going to university at all.

There’s more than one way to get to where you want to be academically and career-wise.

To help you understand all the options available to you we spoke to people who re-sat a levels, took gap years and went straight into work to tell us about their experience and how it helped them in their quest for academic or career success.

Resitting a year of A Levels

“After getting 4 D’s in AS I decided to resit A levels at a new sixth form. I stuck with a couple of them and picked up Economics. If I hadn’t picked up Economics I probably wouldn’t have gone to university as there was nothing else I wanted to study. It can be hard making a decision so big when you are only 17, but the difference it could have on your career in the long term is too big to shy away from.” Hizzer Ramzan

“I failed my first year of A levels and got  DDEU in Biology, Chemistry, Economics and Maths respectively. My sixth form gave me two choices; change my subjects and retake or do a Science BTEC. I didn’t want to do either so I changed schools and did Psychology, Chemistry and Biology. I got AAB at the end! This year I just had my final A Level exams and I’m hoping to study Neuroscience at KCL. I did struggle at first as I felt behind my friends because they were getting uni offers, whereas I was learning the same content and didn’t feel like I was progressing at all. You’ve just got to put those feelings aside and carry on working, otherwise you start feeling lost.” Alizeh Shah

Doing a gap year

“I dropped out of university after the first 2 semesters after realising my very vocational Medicine degree wasn’t the path I wanted. Taking a year out was hugely informative for me. I changed my mind several times about what I wanted to study instead, and have concluded with an offer from the University of Oxford to study Philosophy & Modern Greek. I have spent the majority of my gap year working in London, first as a finance recruitment consultant and now at an EdTech startup. These experiences have taught me more about careers over 1 year than I ever learned from school/university!” Phoebe Hennell

“During year 13 I changed heart about the course I wanted to study so I was set on taking a gap year and reapplying to university. My grades were better than anticipated so I thought I’d try Oxford because I had nothing to lose, and I got in! I begin my physics degree in October. My gap year’s been amazing- I’ve done a lot of charity work and actually fly to Nairobi on Sunday to do charity work for a month. It’s been the best decision I’ve made.” Ibraheem Ahsan 

“I initially didn’t plan on taking a gap year but it was definitely the best decision I made as it allowed me to take more time to think about the career path that I wanted to take rather than rushing into a course that I didn’t have my heart set on. The year itself was very productive and I managed to write a paper during it as well as find a job that helped me financially. A summer with no exams to worry about is a huge bonus!” Anon

“I decided to drop out of university due to not being fully interested in the course by the end of year 1 and wanting to focus more on utilising my skills in maths and economics. Decided to take a gap year, reapply and gain valuable work experience. I worked at a local accounting firm to give me a good grounding of the industry. I also spent some time at Handelsbanken, gaining a hands-on unique experience in private banking. Now, i’m an investment dealing assistant at The Share Centre, a stock broker. My passion for investing has continued throughout the job. Overall, my gap year has been a success and has placed me in a good position for studying finance at Durham University.” Dilan Mistry

Going straight into work

I’m currently an apprentice at Kellogs, working on the Cornflakes production line. By going down the apprenticeship route all the relevant qualifications (ONC, HNC, HND and NVQ) have all been paid for by the company, with the opportunity to carry on into a BEng degree, again paid for by my company. I’ve been paid throughout the apprenticeship and next year I’ll be in the position to get a job at Kellogg’s earning over £40k a year with no student debt.  Ashley Aikenhead

I had always planned to go University to study a maths related degree and at the age of 16 I wanted to go for a masters. I was all set-up with my personal statement written, my five university choices made and my future set out before me. However, this all changed in the summer of 2013, when I applied to the EY Foundation Smart Futures programme.  The reason was that I was getting a world renowned qualification without having a mountain of debt, instead being able to save money for the future! The School Leaver programme is for 5 years and hence I was able to save a year as graduates take 3 years (post-graduation – to become chartered accountants). It all made perfect sense to me: save a whole year, get an amazing name and experience on my CV, free from debt and having money to save and spend! Mudassar Chaudhry

I knew I didn’t want to go to university, so for a year after A levels I studied towards the ACCA – and then did a traineeship at BT until I could find an apprenticeship. Once I had the apprenticeship I leveraged it to get my self a full time position, which came with better pay and bigger responsibilities. Without an apprenticeship, I wouldn’t have progressed in my career so quickly. Anon


Author Profile

Hizzer Ramzan
Hizzer RamzanEY
Hizzer is currently an incoming third-year Economics student at York, set to graduate in 2019. After being a brand ambassador for EY over the last year, he is interning with them this summer in their Financial Services Transactions team. He is (Co) President of the Economics Society at York.

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