A-levels: Canonbury girl saw “opportunity” in missing out

PUBLISHED: 17:42 16 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:15 17 August 2016

Camilla with some of the children she helped through her work with Raleigh International

Camilla with some of the children she helped through her work with Raleigh International


With the publication of A-level results tomorrow, students up and down the land will be running through worst case scenarios in their heads. What if I don’t get the grades I need? What if I don’t find a place I want through clearing? What then?

Camilla on her travelsCamilla on her travels

For Canonbury girl Camilla O’Connell the fear became a reality six years ago, when she failed to get the grades she needed to get a place at her preferred university.

“When I got my A Level results, for about a day it felt like the end of my life,” she said.

“Missing out on university meant I would have to take a gap year which I hadn’t planned for.”

Camilla had been hoping to study English at Exeter University, but quickly had to re-evaluate her goals on results day.

Camilla, right, helping to build a school in NicaraguaCamilla, right, helping to build a school in Nicaragua

“I wasn’t too sure about clearing, I didn’t think it was completely in my control. So I thought why not take a gap year, gain some experience and reapply next year.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Through sustainable development charity Raleigh International Camilla volunteered in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where she helped build a school for local villagers.

But she always planned to return to education eventually. Before travelling to South America Camilla re-sat one of her exams, and received the result in a very unconventional manner.

“I was actually trekking through the jungle in Costa Rica when I got a letter from my parents letting me know I’d gotten into Leeds University,” she said.

“It was quite surreal.”

The experience of volunteering is one Camilla says she’ll never forget, and one which definitely helped prepare her for life back home.

“Volunteering gave me the chance to reassess things, grow in confidence and made me understand that failing isn’t really the end,” she said

“For anyone that doesn’t get the results they need I’d just say take a deep breath, think about what you want to do and make a plan. It can be an opportunity in disguise.”

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