“You are more than your grades” – What coming to University taught me

Panoramic view of Canterbury cathedral seen from campus
  "Canterbury cathedral seen from campus" by University of Kent.

Katie Hargrave-Smith is in her final year studying for a BA in Environmental Social Sciences.

Katie Hargrave-Smith thumbnail“This month, my heart has gone out to all those students who have received their A-level results. I remember standing outside my school at 8 am getting my A-Level results and realising I hadn’t made it into my first choice University. It truly felt like the world was ending. I thought I had failed, and it hurt. However, at least the results were ones that reflected my exams, not ones from an algorithm that I didn’t understand.

“When we get our results, what we have spent the majority of our lives working towards is summed up in a few letters and those letters (supposedly) represent how hard we’ve worked for 15 years and how intelligent we are. So, yeah, when we see our results and they don’t reflect that time and effort, it smarts. That is why this disaster with results is a big deal, due to the fact that the algorithm used to calculate them was clearly flawed. I am happy that it hasn’t been accepted and the outrage from students nationwide has been heard.

“But that’s not all I want to say. Because, even if your results have changed, I want you to understand than you are more than those letters. Those letters do not represent your intelligence or your worth. They do not always represent how hard you’ve worked. Some people cannot exam well. Only once you reach University will you realise your true potential and, finally, see your grades reflect your efforts and your knowledge with the outcome of your degree. Once you come to University, your A-levels kind of cease to matter.

“What starts to matter is your confidence in yourself, learning time management on your own terms, an enjoyment of your chosen subject which pushes you to read and study more. So, when you need to make a decision, try to forget the outside pressures from others, and the pressure you put on yourself, and really think about both what you will enjoy most and, crucially, where you will want to enjoy it. What course have you looked at which excites you? Which University has shown that they support their students and will support you? Where can you see yourself living comfortably and happily for three years?

“I went to the wrong University first time around and studied the wrong course and, when I struggled, that institution didn’t help me. Plus, I hated where I lived. Too urban. It turns out I need a lot of green space to be happy: I grew up in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farms and pheasants. I am now at the University of Kent studying my passion, the environment, amongst the community of the School of Anthropology and Conservation.

“I have received countless support for any barriers to my learning, both from the School and the University. It is often difficult being away from home in a new city, and I have always felt that the University of Kent prioritises mental health and wellbeing. For my final year, I have chosen to go back to living on campus because I love it there: there is so much green space and woodland, not to mention a fantastic panorama overlooking Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral seen from campus with accommodation residence Becket Court in the foreground

“Not only have I started achieving high grades, but I have gained confidence, and I think that’s more important. I can comfortably have debates with people who are clearly more qualified in the subject area than I am, I have joined numerous societies and made new friends, and I have been able to apply for part-time jobs whilst studying with conviction, because the University of Kent has given me the depth and understanding that makes a good, enthusiastic candidate.

“And I have been part of a Sustainability Working Group that successfully got the School of Anthropology and Conservation to declare a Climate Emergency, the first academic school at Kent to do so! Hopefully many more will follow suit.

“If there is one thing that coming to the University of Kent has taught me, it is this.

“You are more than your grades. Life begins here.”

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