When a results setback becomes the catalyst for opportunity

Aspiring medical student Emily never thought she’d be in Clearing, but the benefit of extra time helped her to find an even better study direction

6 min read

“The nature of that phone call on A level results day can really colour your impression about whether something feels right and it definitely felt like Plymouth cared the most – the person on the other end of the line was so lovely and I felt completely at ease.”

Emily Vickery

BSc (Hons) Chemistry

I studied International Baccalaureate qualifications at a boarding school, which in itself maybe isn’t the most common route into university. Originally, my plan was to get onto a medical degree and I did get quite far down the path of application, completing all of the mandatory tests in advance of the October medicine application deadline.

I changed my mind

I undertook a week of work experience in a hospital in Taunton where I gained an insight into how the departments within a hospital are structured. I had the opportunity to spend time in a number of different areas from a neonatal ward to the injury admissions unit.

The experience was eye opening but it did leave me questioning whether the hospital setting was the place I saw ‘future me’ working.

Any scepticism I had about whether I wanted to commit to studying medicine for seven years was compounded by conversations with contacts I knew who worked in hospitals – the day-to-day reality of working in a hospital did not necessarily appeal to my personality or academic strengths.

By January of my last year at school, my change of heart led me to opt for biomedical science as my firm choice subject instead of medicine.

The end of the world

In July, later that year, I opened the envelope and looked at my results. Panic set in. I felt as though my world had ended. I told my mum that ‘it had all gone horribly wrong’ – I didn’t get into university and I wasn’t going to study biomedical science. In my sudden state of helplessness, I just wanted to disappear and go to Australia to coach cricket.

Once the impulsive feelings had subsided, I began to reassess my options. I spoke with teachers who were quick to reassure me that my grades were still strong enough to get onto most chemistry degrees. I knew that Clearing was my last chance so from July onwards it was a case of refocusing and researching chemistry courses.

A level results day

I went into the day prepared with a list of about eight universities that were offering chemistry courses through Clearing. Despite feeling comfortable that morning, sprawled on the sofa with phone in hand knowing I had done my preparation, I was still nervous about calling universities and going through what sounded like a mini-interview. I made the tactical decision to call one of my least favoured choices first to loosen up and familiarise myself with the process.

My second phone call was Plymouth. Speaking with the admissions tutor for chemistry presented me with the surprising opportunity to ask some of my burning questions about course content and structure – I knew that courses that have the same course title at different universities can still be very different in terms of taught modules.

The nature of that phone call on A level results day can really colour your impression about whether something feels right and it definitely felt like Plymouth cared the most – the person on the other end of the line was so lovely and I felt completely at ease. I did call a third university but accepting Plymouth’s offer was all but a certainty the moment the conversation ended.

I’m from a tiny village in Somerset so Plymouth wasn’t a world away from where I was living. When I was originally looking to study medicine, Plymouth was one of the locations I really looked into. The positive imprint on my memory that Plymouth left meant that I knew what the area had to offer.

Remaining within comfortable visiting distance to home was important, but I definitely wanted to be far enough away to feel like I was somewhere new.

An overwhelmingly large city would have been too big a leap for me so Plymouth seemed to be a perfect happy medium – you get the city but it’s also close to the sea and moors, with plenty of opportunity for escape.

Accommodation was the last part of the puzzle but I wasn’t too concerned about finding somewhere, given there are so many options in Plymouth – I think my mum was more stressed about it than I was. The thing to remember is that there are a host of options still available in September, catering for a range of budgets and requirements. The hardest part for me was the practicality of getting ready to move in a couple weeks as opposed to being able to prepare months in advance – but we managed it.

Chemical reaction

The amazing thing about the first year of the BSc (Hons) Chemistry course is that it gives you the freedom to establish that base of knowledge regardless of where you come from or how you apply – A levels, foundation years, or in my case, an International Baccalaureate student who came through Clearing.

It didn’t take me long to realise that pursuing chemistry would give me a wider range of career opportunities than medicine. Earlier in my degree, I thought that research and teaching was all there was, but I’ve since learned just how many more doors can be opened by having a degree in chemistry.

Even within the degree itself, we’ve pushed the boundaries of what I thought we’d be doing. In our second year, we did a group project that involved paddling in streams at Wembury Beach, where we collected water and sediment samples for further chemical analysis – a fresh change of scenery from the laboratory.

What next?

In my mind I know that I’m not necessarily tied to staying in the South West and that I’m open to moving away from Somerset entirely – I’m happy to chase the opportunities. University definitely prepared me to become more confident about the future.

The career guidance support was invaluable in helping me develop strong CV-writing skills, prepare for interviews, and to know more about the job opportunities for chemistry graduates. I’m now in my final year looking at various roles within cosmetics companies without a particular dream job or company in mind.

Clearing has taught me that things will turn out okay – sometimes even better than you could have imagined.

Could Clearing be for you?

If you’re worried about your university place, you don’t have to wait until A level results day to apply for Clearing.

Whether you’re yet to apply or have already made an application to the University of Plymouth, we aim to make your next steps as easy as possible.

Achieve a September 2021 place through Clearing