That time I didn't get into uni

I’m not sure many people know the full story of what happened to me on results day. My school friends and A-level teachers might remember. But since thousands of school leavers just got their exam results and the gravity of whatever those UCAS points might mean is sinking in, I thought I’d share a bit of my story, in case you, or someone you know, can relate.

I didn't get into uni

I basically didn’t get into uni. On paper, my application could not have been better, both in grades and in all that lovely “extra circular activity” that gives you “the edge”. At the start of year 13, applying to the prestigious institutions I fancied the look of felt like just one more obvious step along the academic yellow (or maybe red) brick road. If anything, they would be celebrating the opportunity to have me…. right?

And then gradually, as the months rolled by, three rejections from my top three uni choices rolled in, and I was left bewildered and feeling a bit beaten up by the whole process. My parents are teachers, I am literally bred for education, and even when I play the game and play it well, apparently it isn’t enough.

*cue the first kick to the sense of entitlement I carry*

I honestly assumed up until this point that my plan and God’s plan were one and the same. The very idea that I could go on a campus tour, get that instinctive feeling that I could see myself being there, research local churches and discover great stuff going on to get involved with, and know for sure I could help with the next drama society production, I took as Holy Spirit confirmation. Yet the three places I ‘felt’ were ‘right’ were the three that said no. Huh?

What happens when God’s plan and your plan aren’t the same plan, but you’ve been living assuming the opposite up until the moment your options run out?

In my case I decided to reconsider the whole thing. I decided not to go to uni at the places I had no interest in really, and I decided to take a year to work, to serve the church, to hopefully travel somewhere to work with a charity abroad, kind of classic gap year stuff, but totally trusting God to make the plan this time, to introduce me to the right contacts and to provide the money to get there. It can be just as wise a decision to not go to uni as to go, you know.

But my lesson learning didn’t stop there. Ok, so I was going to learn about God’s plan being higher and way bigger than my own short-sighted ideas. Fine. Uncomfortable but fine. But, once we’d established a university institution couldn’t define my future or tell me my identity, next to get a heart-check was my view on achievement and grades. 

I utterly messed up one of my history exams

It was actually my favourite essay subject (if you can have such a thing), it was definitely meant to be my strongest area and I’d got the top result in the year for the same paper in the mocks. And I can’t even tell you what happened, but on the day I knew I’d utterly lost my way and totally not delivered what should have been my crowning exam glory. I was so sure I’d failed when I left the exam hall, without speaking to anyone, I powered my way straight to the history office to find my teacher of that topic, walked in and apologised to her and explained that I’d messed it up. I knew I had, but it wasn’t her fault, she was an amazing teacher and I was sorry not to have delivered. 

When you’re predicted an A in a paper and you get a D, which then pulls your whole History mark down so that overall you get a B (by one mark!) and thus don’t get your predicted straight As, it is a sure fire way to have a heart-check that your identity can’t be shaken by your grades.

*cue the second kick to the entitlement I carry*

Results day

So on results day, I wasn’t a bundle of nerves and I wasn’t a bundle of excitement. I was just a bit sad and a bit numb. Ten of my friends of my big friendship group all celebrated their uni places and would all be leaving to be freshers together next month. I got my results, was kind of disappointed, had the sinking feeling of knowing if I still felt it was right to go to uni I’d have to go through the whole process again but with less strong grades that before, and I went home with nothing much to say or do. Social media is a way bigger thing now than it was for me, so some of you are finding it a bit like salt-in-the-wound to see so many posts announcing uni places as you sit at home with nothing much to announce. Comparison is a kicker to our joy isn’t it? Don’t let it steal your attention and drain your trust in God. The story isn’t finished.

I did plunge back into the uni application process, but this time a brand new course at York existed that I’d never seen before. I applied, got accepted and didn’t even finish the interview process for anywhere else as I knew this place was for me. I ended up being on the first ever year of a new course in a new department, in a brilliant uni in an idyllic city that weirdly I’d loved since childhood as my cousins grew up in a nearby village. I didn’t even look at York first time round. 

At uni I found my church G2. This was the first place to spot and release me to lead in church and to preach, which turns out to be a huge part of my calling. In York I learnt to pioneer, to communicate (indirectly what my degree trained me for!), we started student mission stuff in our church and in prisons, I had the best time on the football team, with my house mates (on the train to see some of them now actually!) and with my degree classmates, and I found out about Fusion. I graduated and started working for Fusion, developing UK student mission, I help lead G2 (still my much loved local family), still live in the awesome York, and this September I’ll get to meet a whole fresh wave of Miriam's showing up to uni with different and often not straight forward stories of how they’ve got there too.

Jesus doesn't panic when you flunk an exam

Basically, I am living a story where uni and results and all that I’d hoped and prayed and thought, took different twists and turns than expected. And I can honestly say, my faith is stronger, more robust and way more interesting and adventurous because of it. Jesus doesn’t panic when you flunk an exam. Jesus isn’t nervous on results day that you won’t get where you ‘need’ to go. He sees your whole life, way way further than you can, and he isn’t worried or shocked or left at a loss. He says, “look at me, trust me, follow me” and that’s always been regardless of grades, degrees, or even your own bright ideas. 

God bless you whatever results day means for you. Don’t forget, not matter where you might go, local church families in every uni location are waiting to welcome you and help you make sense of this next season. Do use Student Linkup and I’ll see you as a student soon, there’s wonderful work still to be done.

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Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

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