Alum Amber El-Jabali reflects on today’s new polling and shares her journey leading up to A level results day.

In the build up to A-Level results day, it has been hard to keep myself occupied without the thought of August 15th somehow creeping into my mind. I can’t scroll through Instagram without seeing an advertisement for ‘Clearing now open’, or YouTube without seeing a video entitled “Live reaction to my A-Level results” from last year’s students.

And beyond social media? I’ve been thinking about a higher education that I hope will lead towards a brighter future. 2019 marks the year that I’ll embark on a four year journey towards a Master of Pharmacy – and inevitably fall into a staggering five figure debt that I’ll be paying off for decades to come. Coming from a family where the price of a university degree is unimaginable, it’s quite mad to think I’m making a decision this big, whereas for some, going to university is just the ‘norm’. The truth is, what the future holds is never guaranteed for anyone, so it’s the leap of faith to achieve what you want that counts.

For some students receiving their results today, entering the world of work will come much sooner, with the polling today showing rising numbers of young people favouring apprenticeship routes. Although the application process may be much more daunting, apprentices can feel confident that they will be on par, if not more prepared, than their university educated peers when applying to jobs – something that is understandably enticing for many.

For others, gap years are becoming ever more popular. Many students see it as a well needed break after fifteen years in the education system. Other students take it as a strategic decision; be it to earn some hard cash before they set off for university or gain contacts in their industry before entering higher education.

What the polling today does highlight is that young people recognise the value of networks and personal connections more than ever. We’ve all heard the saying “it’s not about what you know, but who you know”, and often brush it off. But the findings show that young people are becoming increasingly aware of this. They are always on the hunt for opportunities – although worryingly often unpaid – in the hopes of making their CV stand out from the crowds.

I didn’t think much of it at the time but looking back I can see how my lack of connections affected my experiences from as young as 14.  During Year 10 work experience, the only placement I got was helping in the local primary school, while my peers went to spend the week in the city or in quirky start-ups. I remember thinking it was probably because my emails weren’t compelling enough but maybe it was more than that? Maybe it was that my parents didn’t go to university and I didn’t have a network to benefit from?

But network or no network, my path to university this year wasn’t a decision taken lightly, nor was any student’s post 18 choices I know. As a student on cohort 7 of the Sutton Trust US Programme in 2018, I had been considering undergraduate study in the USA for a while. When the time came to make a decision, it wasn’t easy and I often question whether I made the right one. Eventually it came down to the fact I wanted to be close to home and study Pharmacy, a course not offered at undergraduate level in the US.

The fast changing world we live in will benefit from the array of knowledge and skills these young people receiving their results today will bring. Choosing your path after school will always be a hard one, but young people are learning to embrace the challenge. So whether your next stop is freshers week, corporate inductions or hopping on a plane, be confident in yourself that you have made the right decision. Good luck to anyone receiving results!

Amber is a Sutton Trust US Programme alum, learn more about the programme or our alumni community.

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