How to make the right choice when faced with pressure after your A Levels

How to make the right choice when faced with pressure after your A Levels

Deanna Waistell discusses her experience when it comes to deciding what to do after her A Levels.

First published date June 26 2018 Amended date June 26 2018

Life as a sixth form student rotates like a wheel; it’s a constant juggle of school, homelife and deadlines with dreams more often than not, tumbling to the bottom. Generations of dreamers are ultimately put to the test by their own psychological barriers and for many like me, this constant pressure to be on the ball acts as a deterrent, rather than a force of motivation towards a path of higher education.

Growing Opportunities

Since the Robbins Report of 1963, the expansion of Universities has grown substantially. With there being over 50,000 different courses to choose from across the UK; students are spoilt for choice. From Aerospace Engineering to Scandinavian Studies you can practically find any course that you want. However, this brings with it an overwhelming pressure to pick the right one.

Last year it was recorded that 18-year olds, from the most disadvantaged areas in England, were 82% more likely to enter into higher education than in 2006. Although this soar in students attending university can be seen as a success, it also places pressure on the following generation.  It becomes human nature to want to evolve and be better, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy on either end of the spectrum. If you believe you can succeed, you will. But, if you believe you will fail you may. It’s that self-destruction which can plague a successful student into someone who no longer holds on to their dreams.

The next step

University education is a unique experience where you can expand your knowledge and gain more independence. Many people decide to go to university because degrees are recognised by employers for specific jobs which can give you access to a particular career. They are also aspirational and perfect for people who have a desire to learn.

However, from my perspective it could also be argued that the university experience is glamorised from what we see in media. TV shows and movies create an image of a carefree experience, which is dramatized from reality. The perfect university is created on screen; making a potential real-life decision even harder to make.

Misconceptions about the future are also found in alternative choices. For example, degree apprentices are highly sought after because you can ‘earn why you learn’. You are able to learn a degree course while working in a professional sector, which is amazing. However, they are also extremely competitive as companies pay for your tuition. -making them almost unattainable.

Other alternatives like full time work also bring misconceptions and pressure. For many, going straight into employment is great, because you can earn your own money away from the once stressful school environment.  Yet, this can also be a stigmatised decision because you “won’t get anywhere without the learning of further education”. This perception in society makes the next step that much harder to reach.

Choices for the future

In a generation that works continuously in the present, it can be a demanding task to look to the future. The pressure of making a choice for the next step of our lives is immense and creates anxiety.  For the majority of our younger years we have lived in comfort and the pressure of a new journey can create a barrier in itself. 

The decision to study further, be it through higher education or further education signals the end of our adolescent years. It marks the start of adulthood and a seriousness to life, which we haven’t experienced before. I think that as a student this is where the pressure on ourselves stems from- the fear of becoming an adult. When people ask “What do you want to be?” the realisation really sets in.

From everything I have learnt from this point, I know that there is no one ‘right’ choice. There are multiple options for learning that can be equally as good for you. Accepting this lifts the weight of pressure away and you can’t help but be excited for what’s to come. Whether you pursue higher education, apprenticeship or employment, the experience doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary, it can be a source of joy for a new adventure to begin, and it’s one that I definitely want to explore.


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Deanna is a contributing writer currently studying for her A Levels.