RTW: Graduation in the UK, circa 1988

It’s time for another Road Trip Wednesday. Yay!! Road Trip Wednesday is a meme hosted by the amazingly talented writer ladies at YA Highway. We all get in our cars and go visit all of our blog friends every Wednesday… well, not quite. We don’t get in our cars, but we jump on the Information Super Highway (heehee–in-joke for those who read my blog on Monday) and visit one another’s blogs. And we do so because we have all blogged on a theme, a theme set by the aforementioned bonnie lasses at YA Highway. Today’s question is:

How did you spend/how will you spend the summer after graduation?

All participants on this mad dash around the web blog their answers, post their links on the YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday article for today, and then jump from site to site to see what everyone said. You can join in too if you want!

As you may or may not know, I was raised and educated in the UK through my undergraduate degree, and we didn’t have such a thing as “High School Graduation.” We completed our O’ Levels (now called G.C.S.Es–for non-UK readers, O’ Levels/G.C.S.E.s = O.W.L.s), then if we did well enough we went on to 6th Form, did our A’ Levels (non-UK readers: A’ Levels = N.E.W.T.s), and, depending on our A’ Level results, we went to a college, a polytechnic, a university, or took our chances in the big world. So for the purpose of today’s RTW, we’re talking about that period of time after the last A’ Level exam.

The first post-A’ Level event I remember was my Ancient History teacher taking us out to the pub to celebrate (we were all 18, the legal drinking age in the UK). It’s possible there were other parties I went to–I don’t remember. But for most of the time, I hung out with friends, relaxed, and enjoyed the break from exam pressure. It was not totally stress-free, though. Results Day was coming in August!

I had applied to universities, and been to a couple of interviews toward the end of the previous year. All my choices made offers (i.e., “this is how well you have to do to get a place here”) of some kind–ranging from A’s in all my subjects, to barely a pass in a few. When I turned up at the school secretary’s office on Results Day, I knew where I wanted to go, and how well I would have to have done to get in.

I arrived about 9 am, which for a teenager during summer break is practically the crack of dawn. The adrenaline buzz outside the secretary’s office would have powered a small nuclear station. She opened her doors and had us collect our results in alphabet groups. They were on strips of paper, one strip per examination board, with a computer print out of the grade letter for each subject. I still have mine. I did well enough to get in somewhere, but it was touch and go with my first choice university. I didn’t have the letter grade, but I had the points. [Let me explain. Each grade is designated a point: A=5, B=4, C=3, D=2, E=1 if I recall correctly. If a university required you to get an B in Maths, an A in Computer Science, and a B in Physics to study Computer Science there, but you got a C in Physics, a B in Maths, an A in Computer Science, and an E in General Studies, they might let you in because you had equivalent points.]

I hurried home and called the Admissions at my first choice university. They asked what grades I got, and I appealed to “equivalent points.” “Sorry,” the nice person on the other end told me, “due to demand, we’re taking exact grades only.” Disappointment! So, I started down my list of university choices. For the next, again, I didn’t have exact grades, but I had the points. “What was your Religious Studies grade?” the Admissions person asked (I had applied to study Theology). I told them the grade, and that it was my highest. “Not a problem. An information package will be in the mail, and we’ll see you in October!” Woo Hoo!!

The first term at Hull University started the first week of October (our school year consisted of three ten-week terms with breaks for Christmas, Easter, and summer), so for the rest of August and the whole of September I was getting myself ready for moving up to Hull, some 200 miles away. I spent time with my friends, none of whom would be in Hull with me, sorted through my stuff deciding what I couldn’t live without for 10 weeks, and tried to get hold of some course books (unfortunately we didn’t have a Diagon Alley that would cater to all my needs prior to arriving in Hull).

And that was my summer after “Graduation.” How would you answer the question? Blog an answer and join in the Road Trip Wednesday fun!

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23 thoughts on “RTW: Graduation in the UK, circa 1988

  1. Jaime

    Wow, what a busy post-grad summer! I was just thinking it’s kind of funny how here in Canada we’ve ripped off so many names of UK cities, and in this caseβ€”Hull. Hull is a place in Quebec, just across the border from our nation’s capitol, Ottawa. Hull also happens to be where all of our passports come from in Canada. Weird little Canadian fun fact… πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      And I’ve been to Hull, Quebec! About a year after I moved over here, my wife, her sister, her aunt and I drove up to Ontario for a wedding. We stayed with a friend, and since we were there for a few days, we decided to visit Ottowa. While there, we spotted signs for “Hull”–and it was just a couple of miles away. My wife and I couldn’t resist, so we crossed the border into Quebec. I was amazed at how European Quebec looked, even compared to Ottowa (which seemed to me like an interesting mix of American and European cultures). We didn’t stay long. In fact, we got turned around at one point, and I had to ask directions from someone in my very faltering and nervous French–made even more nervous by the fact I’d not actually tried speaking French to anyone with competence in the language since my O’Levels!

      So, I have not only been to your beautiful country, but I have visited Hull! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  2. Julie Dao

    Wow, it’s interesting how different the education/grading systems are in the UK! College admissions here in the U.S. generally look at a grade point average (GPA). Mine was good, but not good enough to get into my dad’s alma mater (Cornell. Booo). I actually don’t remember what I did the summer after high school – guess it wasn’t all that memorable, haha. And I remember what I did the summer after college… I started my first full-time job!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      I confess that I actually prefer the UK system. It makes me sad when they talk about changing it (which I know they have been for years). To me, it really gets to the heart of what higher education is about: pursuing a subject you have an aptitude for and that you enjoy studying. The system starts out broad based (O’Level/GCSE), then you specialize to a handful of subjects (A’Level), and then you specialize to a subject (University). And at university, you spend three years studying that subject and only that subject–not four years, two-thirds of which are spent on subjects completely unrelated to your major (i.e., the US system). Just my 2-cents on the subject. πŸ™‚

      Perhaps Cornell will invite you to give a Commencement address when you’re a successful writer, along with an honorary degree. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  3. stephscottil

    Super interesting to hear how different the experience is in the UK. It sounds very focused which might be helpful than the blank slate approach going on in the U.S.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Steph! As I said to Julie, that’s what I like about the UK system–it’s a much more focused approach to education. And, at least when I was a teen, going to university was not considered the only way to get a job and succeed in the world. Sure, it was touted as giving you advantages, but there were a lot of work training projects also for those not academically inclined. I think that’s something sadly lacking in the US. So many kids feel like they have to spend thousands going to college when they have neither the funds, nor the academic inclination. They’re essentially forced through four years of learning to come out really not any better than when they went in. Such kids would be better served with job training, internships, and so on. Sorry–rant over. πŸ˜€

      Reply
  4. Robin Moran

    I wish our teachers had taken us to the pub to celebrate! Our English teachers were the only ones to bring treats for the exam break (we were having two that day)… and they were bananas!

    That summer I finished A*Levels was amazing. I was so excited to move on to university and practically sat in front of the letterbox for official letters and the fresher’s pack. Hull was one of my choices for university. I was quite interested in some of their Masters degrees but decided against it in the end. I want the PGCE. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Hull had quite a respectable PGCE programme when I was there. I knew a couple of people who went into it straight after their undergrad, and got teaching jobs not long after. Students from the Bishop Grosseteste college in Lincoln (which is now a “University College” I see) would go to Hull University for a year as part of their teacher training (“Bishop Grot” students, we called them).

      You’re right about that summer of excitement/trepidation over going to university. I can still remember reading over the forms I got from Hull about accommodation, and trying to decide between Halls of Residence or Student Housing (“Student Houses”–residential houses purchased by the university and made available for students for the cost of utilities–was a concept I believe Hull University pioneered). Ahhh… fun times! πŸ˜€

      Reply
  5. Melanie

    I think it’s hilarious your teacher took you to the pub!
    And wow, it’s so different getting into University there. I remember my college admissions and then waiting in the mail for the letters to come, and that was all before I actually graduated.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      It is different, which makes it hard for me to advise my kids on their higher education options. I have to leave that to my wife! πŸ™‚

      Reply
  6. Kat

    I had a very similar experience! I went to highschool in the US but decided to go to university in the UK. It was horrible because in the US there are no conditional offers so by the time of graduation I was the only one who still didn’t know where she was going! And then I missed my expected marks by one little point (I did International Baccalaureate in the States which is only a point system out of 45 total points). Same as you if you so narrowly missed the mark they sometimes let you in but alas, same as you again due to the high demand they didn’t. Made for a very tumultuous summer after graduation!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      I just read your article for today, Kat. Wow, that must have been a very nerve-wracking time for you. Especially since you were applying abroad without any back-up plan in the US. One thing I’ve found, and I see from your experience, is that there’s always a way to do something if you really want to. And in the end, you ended up in Cardiff–which is what you *really* wanted, even if you didn’t know it at the time!! πŸ˜€

      Reply
  7. Samantha @ Reading-AndCoffee

    The Canadian education system seems much less complicated than the UK system. I guess it just depends on what you grow up with, right? The only people I know who actually had to go to an interview for their post-secondary institutions are acting majors, because they had to audition. I’m glad everything worked out for you though. That summer before University can be so stressful!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      I don’t know about complicated… just a different approach, I think. Not all universities in the UK require an interview. Hull didn’t require an interview of me, but a couple of the others did. It might depend on how fierce the competition for places is that year–I don’t know. Yes, that was a stressful, but exciting summer. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  8. Elodie

    Funny how everything is different countries from countries (and yes UK is part of the EU :D)…It sounds like you had quite a busy summer, Colin! (by the way, I really like the way you wrote this, like you were telling a story…)

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      It was a fun-anxious-busy summer, certainly. A time of transition, though it never occurred to me at the time just how dramatic and life-altering it would be. I met my wife at Hull University, and that took my life on a completely unforeseen (and totally awesome) trajectory.

      UK part of the EU, maybe. But European? We could probably argue about that one. One day, over drinks at a writer’s conference. With Jaime moderating. That sounds like it would be a lot of fun, actually. πŸ˜‰

      Reply
      1. Elodie

        It would be very very fun! I agree that the UK is not the most European country if we talk about identity even though one could argue that when one fights so much against something, itΒ΄s really because one is really fighting its strong lovey dovey feelings against it πŸ˜€

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  9. Crystal

    It’s so interesting to read about the differences between graduation in the states and in other countries. By the time I graduated, I already had a place at college, and I can’t imagine going the whole summer without knowing! It must’ve been so nerve-racking!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Considering the exams finished around the end of June/beginning of July, we had a whole month or so without knowing. It certainly added a nervous edge to the “end-of-school” celebrations. And those celebrations were bitter-sweet anyway, because the end of school was the end of an era. I had been going to school with these people for seven years, and now we were going our separate ways to different parts of the country. I can still remember what it was like. *sigh* Good memories, though. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  10. Angelica

    That would drive me crazy to take all those exams and not know where you placed for a whole month! But it sounds like I might have fit into the UK model better than the US, from the way you describe it.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      As I said on your blog, I think you would have made an excellent homeschooler! Yes, it was a nervous month or so waiting for the exam results, making very tentative plans for the future. But we did our best not to think too much about it and have fun in the meantime. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  11. Sara Biren (@sbiren)

    Ha, the summer after your N.E.W.T.s. I love it.

    I can’t really remember the details of choosing a college or waiting to find out if I was accepted. 1. It was a long time ago (we’re only a couple of years apart on that). 2. I wanted to go to Cornell University but it really wasn’t an option financially, so my parents gave me two days to make a decision. I chose the University of Minnesota in Duluth thinking I would transfer somewhere else after two years. I ended up loving it and staying. My point here (I ramble) is that I knew already in November of my senior year that I’d been accepted. I only had to wait to find out about scholarships, and that’s not nearly as nerve-wracking or exciting.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      In the UK back then, undergraduate degree courses were paid for by your LEA (local education authority). This “grant” covered tuition, and provided a nominal sum to help cover day-to-day expenses. Some students worked during the vacations to supplement this grant, but most managed to make it stretch. So scholarships for undergrad weren’t ever an issue in my day. I believe things have changed in the UK now, and students are expected to get loans, etc., as in the US. So it might well be even more nerve-wracking for UK students now!

      Reply

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