A-Level Results are not the End of the Road for Individual Success: A Personal Story

The key to success is making the most of the opportunities that arise and remembering YOU are important – not your grades!

Sean Strong 18.03.20.

Between 2012 and 2014, I did my A-Levels and I wanted to drop out. Fast-forward to the summer of 2014 and I had got through them.

At school, I wanted to do well in all my subjects, but never really excelled in obtaining the consistent high grades. At GCSE, I achieved one A, six Bs, and three Cs. Once I achieved those grades, I knew I wanted to undertake A-Levels, however, understood the jump would be hard, but ultimately obtainable.

A-Levels were a tough experience. By that time, I had enough of studying and was exhausted, however, I was sure university was the right place for me. Throughout sixth form, I did not study the periods of history I found interesting. Rather than studying Tudor England and the World Wars, I wanted to go further back in time and study the Ancient Mediterranean. Applying to university was finally the time I was able to choose MY period of history.

I applied to Winchester, Manchester, Cardiff, for two courses, and Lampeter. However, it ultimately came down to two universities: Cardiff and Lampeter. I put Cardiff down as my number one choice and Lampeter as my second. Both courses were equally amazing and the thing which made Cardiff my top pick was the opportunity to continue my tennis. I received a formal offer from Cardiff in which I needed three Bs. For Lampeter, I was called for an interview and, three days before Christmas, I received an unconditional offer to study Ancient and Medieval history. I was very fortunate to be in a position where regardless of what grades I achieved, I was going to university.

Results day came… and I was disappointed. I achieved three Cs. Although I loved Lampeter, I was gutted I would not be playing tennis for three years. At that moment, it felt like the end of the world. Thinking back, achieving three Cs at A-Level is not something to sniff at. Regardless, I felt disheartened because, despite my hard work, I did not achieve my expected grades, nor my offer for Cardiff. However, it was time to go to university.

Going to Lampeter was the best thing to happen to me!

My time at Lampeter allowed extensive personal and academic development. The 16-year-old boy turned into an aspiring academic. Looking back at my time at Lampeter, I could not be more indebted to them for making such a positive change in my life.

In my first term at Lampeter, they established I was on the autistic spectrum. This diagnosis was an enlightenment. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, ADHD, and Dyspraxia, and for the first time in my life, I was finally able to understand who I was.  

My goal at university was to achieve a 2:1. Going into university with my A- Level grades, I thought this might have been a stretch. At the start of my grades I was averaging grades around the mid 2:2 range. I thought at this stage, I would barely make a final degree mark of a 2:1, regardless of my work ethic.

However, through hard work and dedication, and the support of my lecturers, support staff, and friends, I finished my second year with a mid-high 2:1. During my third year, I continued working hard, and ended up graduating with a first class honours in Ancient and Medieval history. I could not believe it!

During my last year, I considered doing a postgraduate course. The topic I wanted to study was Byzantium. I first interacted with the empire in a first-year module on the Crusades. Since that moment, every essay I could fit Byzantium into, I did! After I submitted my masters applications, I meet the late Dr Mark Whittow at a SPBS lecture on usurpation (my proposed masters topic) in London. Mark and I spoke and he dubbed me: ‘The Byzantinist of Lampeter.’ I was truly honoured.

When applying for postgraduate courses, I went in with the same mind-set as when I applied for undergraduate – I had no expectation of gaining entrance, but the main criteria was, above all else, the course and its structure and content. I applied to Cambridge (Medieval History), Oxford (Late Antique and Byzantine Studies), UCL (Late Antique and Byzantine Studies), and Cardiff (Ancient and Medieval Warfare). I was thrilled to receive offers from Oxford, UCL, and Cardiff, but I was declined from Cambridge.

In Autumn 2017, I started my Mst in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at the University of Oxford and in the summer of 2018, I was notified I had passed my postgraduate degree! After Oxford, I needed a break. I was exhausted and mentally drained, but after some time off this put me in the best place possible for entering the next stage of my academic journey. Fast forward to when I am writing this, and I am a PhD student at Cardiff University reading in Ancient History!

Looking back at A-Levels results day, I never would have thought I would be starting to move towards a possible career in academia. A-Level results day is nominally a crucial day in every 18-year-old’s life. However, one key thing to remember is, if you do not get your desired grades it is not the end of the world. It has been the judgment of fate that has steered you into your new direction and it will work out. Just as long as you are motivated and passionate about what you want to achieve – you will be on the road to success.

A-Levels are not everything. Your road to success will incur many obstacles, but it is how you overcome them that makes you the person you are today.

Keep positive and you will always see the best in all situations.

Published by Sean Strong

Sean is a doctoral researcher working on the reign of Maurice (582-602). He holds a further interest in understanding the ideology behind identity and the perception of rulership in Eastern Europe and the Near East. Sean's research interests vary throughout the Late Antique and Byzantine world, and span across the fields of military, political, and social history.

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