Clearing experiences: `It slapped me right in the face'

1st August 2013 at 01:00

On the morning of A-level results day, I entered the school gate with a sense of inevitability. I still hoped that, through some miracle, I'd got the three Bs that I needed to get into my first choice university. But I knew in my heart that my attempt to learn the entirety of my Latin set texts in two days had ended in abject failure. I opened my results envelope and was slapped in the face by a big fat D.

That was the start of the most confusing weeks of my life. I had no idea what to do. I asked my careers teacher, who told me to ring my first choice university as soon as possible. I rang and I was told categorically that I had been rejected - no sympathy, no chance to plead my case, just a straight "no". I rang my second choice and was offered a place. I should have been reassured, but instead I felt trapped; I had known all along that I didn't want to go there.

I staggered out of the school hall, confused and upset. Then my luck changed: I bumped into Mr Smith, my Latin teacher. He knew my results and apologised. I told him that it was my fault. From that point on, Mr Smith became my anchor, even giving me his home phone number. He told me to go home and really think about what I wanted to do. He also said that I should consider going into clearing.

I took his advice and - as I was a student in the era before the internet was mainstream - set about ringing universities, asking about places to study philosophy, my original choice, or maths. After limited success with the universities I had originally applied to, I widened my search. I rang the University of Manchester, a city I had never visited, and was offered a place. After a few seconds consideration, I bit their metaphorical hand off. A few weeks later, I was deposited by my dad outside my new halls. I had a ball, got a 2:1 and haven't thought about Latin since.

David Dorrell is now a successful civil servant

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