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I'm finding myself at the moment in a not dissimilar situation to that which I was in two years back; deciding my future education, however while I was a lot more certain last time now I feel like a little lost sheep in this huge field. It has made me reflect on the decisions I made back in 2005/6 and I can see the mistakes I made and the things I did right so I feel like offering this advice to the young'uns!! Obviously you don't have to be 16 to be taking A levels but my advice here is probably more suitable for people of that age, though, you never know!!
Where to study
First thing to do is to find where to study, your school may provide a VI form, mine didn't thought there was one which was joint with my school and another one. This could be an ideal place to study, you will be taught by teachers who know you, who know your strengths and weaknesses, you won't get the awkward stage when the teachers try to get to know you and you them, what is more, you will be surrounded by people you already know from school. I didn't choose the VI form, I didn't like the place, it was too small and didn't supply me with the opportunity to do the subjects I was interested in and place didn't have much money so was lacking in equipment, a disadvantage of local places.
You could go to one of the colleges that offer education for everyone, of every age. I personally would not recommend this for A levels for teenagers because it is a complete difference to school, you will be expected to take full responsibility for your education, and after years of school where you will be force fed information and followed up when missing class and homework etc. not many people can handle the huge difference. Also you are going to end up in classes full of people of different ages; my friends went to one of these colleges and went into their English class where they met an old man, they had assumed he was the teacher but he turned out to be a student. Now this may not be a concern for you, but it does mean that where in VI form lessons will be designed for your age, this won't be so in one of these colleges. These colleges suit people going for courses not available in the VI form, such as hairdressing or childcare, but I wouldn't recommend them for A levels, though you may find them your thing!!
There are also VI form colleges about the place which provide education for students aged 16-19 and no other ages. I chose to go to one of these; it was much bigger than the VI form and had a lot more money so the equipment is all up to date. As the college is full of people of the same age it is designed for us, there is advice available for young lifestyles (sexual health, connexions, money advice etc.) and the format is something between school and university, so that while we are expected to work a lot more independently than at school we will be chased if we're not doing the work and this is exactly what I needed!!
Deciding on your subjects
Ah… the important part of this!! Obviously after choosing colleges you need to see what they offer in terms of courses. This was one of the factors that put me off the school VI form, as it was such a small place I realised that I would not be able to choose all the subjects I wanted as they did a this or that type of system, meanwhile the college I chose pretty much allows any combination of subject, however it does not offer subjects like metal work, textiles, food tech etc. which I could have done at the VI form.
Some people at 15 have planned their lives out and know exactly what job they want, they then choose their subjects for that and go on and get that job. I am not one of these people; at 15 I was clueless, I had ideas of what I wanted to do that pretty much changed every week. Quite honestly I'm not that different at the moment, though I do have a better idea of what I'm doing.
The first thing to do is to choose subjects you are going to enjoy; that I would say is the most important thing to do. You will be stuck with these subjects for the next two years, so there is no point in forcing yourself to spend hours over algebra text books if you can't stand maths and you may be the best actor but if you hate drama it will show. If you have your heart set on being a doctor but don't enjoy doing the sciences I think you'll find you've chosen the wrong career! So make sure you enjoy your subjects, I chose to do Media and English Language because I loved these subjects at school. I also chose to do English Lit because I'd done well at it in GCSE, thing is, I didn't actually like Lit at school so this turned out to be a big mistake and I rarely turned up to the lesson!!
You should also chose subjects which you are good at, most colleges aren't going to let you do a subject if you've failed it at GCSE, but you need to make sure you're not doing a subject that you really struggle with, even if you can pull it up. Because it will not get any easier at A level, trust me it will get one hell of a lot harder!! So pick subjects that you are good at, if you have a creative brain, then go for creative, if you're scientific then do that. It may seem obvious but I know people who chose subjects that they thought sounded good even though they weren't that good at them and people who feeling pressured by their parents into taking something ended up failing it really badly.
If you have set out a career for your future make sure you're choosing subjects that are compatible with the career, this ought to be work with the two above criteria because if you don't enjoy the subjects you need to do or aren't good at them then as I've already said you have chosen the wrong career, you should be finding one that you can use your talents in and enjoy, because at the end of the day you'll be wanting to do this job for the rest of your working life.
If you are a potential Oxbridge student you need to be careful about the subjects you chose, while they shouldn't really be Oxbridge are still very prejudice about certain easy subjects and recommends that students only take a maximum of one of these to be considered for entrance. It's a strange thing, as at the end of the day A levels are all supposed to be as challenging as each other, obviously though talents mean this is not so, meaning that one kid could do amazingly at maths and find it really easy and yet completely fail media, find it an impossible subject. Still if you are considering Oxbridge make sure you're taking subjects they will be happy with, and you're wanting to do three subjects they don't like then maybe you're not Oxbridge material, which is not a bad thing, some people feel pressured into trying to get into top universities, but if you're not designed for them, then there is no point.
Also make sure you don't choose subjects because you think they're going to be easy, my cousin said to me that she might take Media as it'll be dead easy. I got an A at my GCSE media and found it easy as. I thought that I'd be find with A level, but I got a D on my first year which was quite below the B I was supposed to be getting, and that was after quite a lot of work. A levels are not easy, at all, they are a step up from GCSE. While GCSE is designed for all 14-16 year old children of all academic abilities, A level is designed for students who manage to get 5 Cs at GCSE, so the top academic achievers in the country, therefore they are a lot harder than GCSE because they know you have the ability to pass them and want to now test you on a higher level. A levels are a lot harder than GCSE, remember this, so don't go choosing subjects because they'll be easy, and don't assume just because you're good at something at school that it will be easy at A level, its an easy mistake to make, I thought that because I'd chosen the subjects that I would find college easy, I found out different!! And when my brother who is starting college next year said a similar thing to me, I told just to not think like that, it will be more enjoyable because you're not doing subjects you don't like but it will not be easy!!
I'll just go through my advice in bullet points:
Choose a college that provides you with what you need and the subjects you are interested in
Choose subjects that you enjoy
Choose subjects that you are good at
If you have a chosen career chose subjects which work with this
If you are looking to go to Oxbridge then check that they will accept your subjects
Don't go thinking A level will be easy
I hope this advice helps some people, there is no need to follow it directly but if it helps any teenagers think about their A levels, or helps parents to help their children then that's good.
Don't worry if you've chosen the wrong subjects most places will let you change your courses within the first few weeks and if you can't handle one later in the year you may be allowed to completely drop this subject and start a new one in the new academic year. At 16 you have a whole future ahead of you and as my mum said to me there's plenty of opportunity for second chances. If at 18 you feel you've messed up your college then you can always go and do it again, or you could do some work and come back to college later.
And even if you have chosen the wrong subjects it doesn't mean you can't get anything out of it. At the moment I do English Language, Media and ICT; I love English, I can handle Media, but I am lost in ICT, I really struggle with this subject and yet, I am gaining from it, it provides me with business skills and even though if I was to redo my decisions I wouldn't have selected it this time, it hasn't been a wasted subject, I have got stuff out of it.
Anyway enjoy your college, work hard, get good results and look forward to your future. I hope I've been some help to someone and lets hope that I'm not making any mistakes with my uni course choices, we'll see!!
Some great advice there. I stayed at my high school for A-levels but I hated it! I'm glad I'm at uni now. An enjoyable read. Good luck with your studies! x
groovyem100 28.02.2008 10:52
Two years ago I had no idea what subjects to choose, so I just took the subjects I was best at at the time. I think I made the right decision as I'm quite happily settled into school now, I do keep changing my mind about what career I want at the end of it though. My only regret is staying at the same school for another two years - I got sick of it by the first week! Em x