/ Parenting

A letter to my younger self…

Student writing letter

Do GCSE students have enough information on what A-levels they should pick for their future career? One A-level student, Dan French, shares some wise words with his younger self.

To my two-years-younger self,

I suppose you’re listening to teachers ramble on about GCSE exams right about now. However, these are just preparing you for the next step in your education – A-levels.

Choosing them can be quite a daunting and scary process. You’ll feel too young to be doing it and it feels a little bit wrong. In fact, you’ll feel the same when applying to university and for jobs after that. But believe me when I say, it’s not as bad as it seems.

From the start you’ve been told that your A-level choices will impact your university options. This is true, they really do. Your plan is to study architecture, so I know you’re going to pick your A-levels based on this.

Now, the thought of asking a 15-year-old to make a decision that will affect their entire life sounds insane. So if the plan fails or you don’t want to go to university, just do what you enjoy and do it to the best of your ability. In fact, I know that you’ll change your mind about your career of choice at the end of year 12. It’s not a drastic change, but it will impact your university options. I don’t want you to worry though – you’ll still get offers from two great unis. But you will wonder where else you could have applied for had you known what your career choice would end up being…

There are some factors you should consider when choosing your A-levels though. Before anything else, I’d recommend thinking about whether you’ll be passionate about each subject. Are you going to enjoy the subject enough to make you want to work for it? And then after that, are you likely to get the grades required to enter into that subject?

In terms of support, you have your teachers. They’ve all been through this. I know you may not be the most confident person to go and ask a teacher, but do it. It will be beneficial.

But when it actually comes to doing your A-levels, more and more students are regretting their choices and you’ll be one of them. You’re a creative person and you don’t like being restricted by facts and formulae. So maths and physics will prove troublesome, heightened by the fact that they are both very demanding and will require a lot of work outside of lessons. You’ll regret physics within the first week, so have the confidence to speak up about it. Don’t leave it until Christmas, when you’ll be half a year behind in assignments.

Looking back, I would definitely do some things differently. So here’s my final advice to you: explore more options, really think about what you want to do and don’t be afraid to speak up. But most importantly, work hard and manage your time. This is not something you can go into half-heartedly.

Good luck! From your two-years-older self

This is a guest contribution by Dan French, who’s currently studying his A-levels and aspires to be a graphic designer. All opinions are Dan’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

If you’ve already taken your A-levels, what would you say to your younger self?


Life is to be lived and it is the nature of life that you will make choices that seem in hindsight to be wrong or sub-optimal. But that is how life is and crying over spilt milk is absolutely pointless.

What is always true is that those who work smart or hard will feel better than those who waste their preparatory years at school and college.

However – life is always going to be fatal so enjoy it anyway and if you are not rich or powerful that may actually mean you have more time for relationships and fun hobbies. But don’t start them until you are grown-up – which actually occurs in the early twenties for the brain – so before that you are still a human in development. : )

Words of wisdom from DT, ,nice
If there is one thing I miss it is work not only for the money but for the kicks I got out of succeeding especially where others failed. . . .I really miss the challenge and success

My advice is to listen to listen to everyone’s advice but make up your own mind. As Dieseltaylor has said, look forward not back if you are not sure you have made the best decision. Best of luck, Dan.

Looking back, I think failing all my A levels was the best thing I ever did.

I think Dan has it spot on. You are likely to know at GCSEs (‘O’ levels in my day) what you are good at, what you are not, and what you like. So ‘A’ level choice should follow from there – do something you like and you’ll do much better. Choosing subjects only because they might seem to lead to a better job will leave you unstimulated, dissatisfied, regretful.

The subjects you choose in school education still leave tremendous scope for you initial career. As you progress your career is likely to become more and more specialised, with the ability to learn, assimilate and use information and experience far more important and this is what education should basically teach you.

Ah! the wisdom of us ancients : )

I averaged a school/college a year through my educational life and I am not convinced that I was ever really able mentally sorted to choose and it was obvious that a really good teacher could make one or two subjects shine above all others.

This might not be necessarily the area that you are perhaps best suited but humans are illogical and persuadable. Bear this in mind but also do not get wracked in indecision. Apparently a trick is to reduce matters to a heads or tails proposition and on this basis flip a coin. If the result works for you great. If you then decide it is best of three then it is obvious what your sub-conscious has decided.

Another trick is to realise that decisions can be made when needed. I do not wrack my mind over Brexit now as all I am required to do is monitor the information as provided in the UK – and of a priority to me is what is happening in other EU countries who are also restive over the EU. If the UK leaves how likely is it that reforms may follow?

So until a day in June I can relax as to which way to vote. It is a handy device to reduce unnecessary overthinking and has applications throughout life. It can also be deployed to doing something now as there is no benefit to be gained from delaying.

Clarity of thinking I think is in itself something that can be to measured and checked to see whether you did it right! : ) Reflection is always useful but does not require enormous amounts of time. Having said that there are so many distractions friends, media, life that I think few people actually do reflect in a positive manner.

P.S. Even as I write I am evaluating whether this worth my effort in terms of who will read. Whether I make Which? look good whilst I rail against two of its executives being paid over £800,000 each this year. Should I give up caring about charities and get started on the Gutenberg project. Or highlighting the importance of reading for growing the mind.

If I could write a letter to my younger self, it would only be to say. Well done on picking a good mix of A-levels (Maths, Computer Science and Physics) but please do some revision for the physics cos the paper would have been easy if you had. And even though the degree was sensible (maths with computing) industry won’t know how to make use of it for anther 20 years, and in many cases they never will.

The letter to my younger daughter would be do what your dad did and not what you want (Marine Biology – although it was fun listening to her critique the latest Jurassic World film, they could have done with her pointing out how you can’t train a raptor as they’re too much like crocs and alligators and not dogs). Finance is the way to go, they pay silly money to even the most stupid of people, so just having 2 brains cells, puts you well above the masses. One caveat, the work is mind numbingly dull.

If I was to write a letter to my younger self I would want to know why I didn’t know myself better then than I could have. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and say I wish I had been given the opportunity to decide to put my more creative side to good use instead of bowing to my fathers wishes that I follow a secretarial career which I didn’t enjoy. Girls in my schooldays were made to attend sewing and cookery classes while the boys attended separate science classes. If I knew then that I had such an enquiring mind and that I was more introverted than extroverted and understood the frustration I felt when teachers failed to satisfactorily answer my numerous questions, (I had to resort to encyclopaedias), given the opportunity to join the lads in the science classes I would have jumped at the chance. Is that why at this late stage in my life I often find myself engaging in heated debates with a regular but lovely bunch of like minded people (and mostly members of the opposite sex) attempting to sort out all present day problems and injustices?

Kids today are under huge pressure to succeed in passing exams in subjects they are not interested in and will probably never use. If these teenage children, whose brains are still developing can be encouraged to examine their own innermost intuition and feelings, they would have a good idea of the career path they wanted to follow and lead happy and fulfilled lives. Some kids are lucky enough to recognise at a very early age exactly what they want to do when they grow up, often as a result of certain influences and happenings in their lives and grow up to become pioneers and innovators in their chosen subject.

So my advice to Dan is not to pay too much attention to passing those exams; the more you are able focus on and become aware of and follow your own gut feelings and instincts, the more confidence you will acquire in your ability to work your way through them.

Beryl, it is a shame when well-meant guidance ( and pressure) from people you respect lead you in a direction not to your liking. They are no doubt trying to help with a “secure” job. In my day, and perhaps yours, a “job with a good pension” was often advised. Given the state of pensions these days, a local government or civil service type job might well have been a sound solution – if you the work regime suited you!

The difficulty, perhaps, for many is to balance the need to earn a reliable living (to support your own new family if that is your aim) along with a fulfilled life. Ideally you have a career you enjoy plus hobbies and outside interests that accord with your other interests. That, I suspect, eludes many however hard they try.

As you only live once (I know some disagree! but what might we return as?) it might be worth throwing caution to the wind, follow your gut instinct, and choosing an education in your favourite subject. Watching the young musician of the year on BBC (good for them for showing this) these youngsters take a terrific gamble in putting their eggs in a very specific and highly competitive world. The rewards, like sport, can be huge if you come top of the pile; many, though, will not. However they clearly enjoy enormously what they do, and maybe that is all that really matters.

Curiously, GCSEs aren’t really that important. But they do act as a little gateway to A levels, which are more important. But A level choice is a different thing. The only University courses which actually demand certain A levels are Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Veterinary Science and Engineering. For the remainder, including Medicine, curiously, you can get in on any three good A level grades (although the more you have, the better).

But Dan should not advise year 11 pupils to ask their teachers. In any school that offers sixth-form teaching the members of staff who teach sixth form will be on the lookout for good students for their own subjects, so there’s no guarantee that the advice will be impartial. In fact, more often than not, it isn’t.

The best advice will come from those who are in good careers (even teaching – as long as it’s not the same school). Those who’ve made it onto the ladder will have the best words of wisdom.

In brief, do what you enjoy, not what you think you should do, work hard (which you will if you enjoy the subject), question everything all the time, take nothing at face value, speak out if you feel something’s wrong and enjoy life: work hard, question hard and play hard.

And if you’re musically talented enough to take part in the Young Musician awards, remember that you will always have a living. It’s not only the top of the pile that make it in music: those good enough to make the competition can carve out excellent careers in Recording, Film, Tv and entertainment production even if they don’t win.

That is true Ian. I was remiss in not mentioning that I was thinking of all those others who compete in the heats and don’t make it – but have committed a huge amount of their life so far to music. But a very enjoyable talent to be blessed with. I like music, (proper music 🙁 ) but wish I had had the talent and commitment to really learn an instrument. My career stopped as second trumpet in the school orchestra, and a brass group. But I enjoyed the taking part (and the occasional time off school for concert rehearsals!)