Lakshan Perera

What's your next move after A/L ?

Results of the G.C.E.Advanced Level (A/L) examination for year 2007 was released yesterday and as usual we got to see lot of drama with mixed emotions over the results. I don't know whether there is any other more competitive exams in the world than A/L's in Sri Lanka. This is due to A/L is the pathway to enter to State University System (which provides free higher education). Anyhow this opportunity is limited, out of 250,000 students who sit for A/Ls only about 20,000 will get a chance to enter to a state university. So for many students (or at least their parents) what matters is not passing the exam, but passing it with flying colours to get selected to a State University (Unfortunately there were some cases even 3-A passes weren't adequate for university entrance). For students from families with lower incomes, this is the only hope in changing their living conditions. In contrast for parents in middle class, their child selecting to a state university is more a symbol of social esteem.

However, it's very common that students are left with no idea of what to do after their A/Ls or the path they take (or forced to take) would lead them nowhere. As I see there are four common paths a student may take after their A/L, I would like to share my thoughts on the consequences of each of these, based on what I've experienced and seen. However, I'm just a undergrad and these thoughts are only from my point of view. Hope you would take them as a grain of salt. If you have a different viewpoint please do share them through the comments.

Repeating the Exam

This may look as the obvious step for the students who failed the exam, but in reality this is the option taken by most of the students including the ones who passed the exam. I know of students who start preparing for their 2nd attempt even before the results are released. I wonder the reason behind this, maybe lack of confidence on yourself ? As I feel, it's important to pass the A/Ls, since it's the stepping stone for any career or any higher education opportunity. So if you've failed the exam, it's better go for a 2nd attempt and try to pass the exam. What about the students who passed the exam, yet thinking of an second attempt ? There is a perception among some students (or their parents) that the sole intention of A/L should be getting selected to a state university to follow Medicine, Engineering, Management or Law. As I feel this is the myth that makes A/L more competitive and a rat race. There are many more better opportunities exist even in the state universities itself (such as IT, Microbiology, Textile Design and Industrial Management) than the above four disciplines. Actually in today's scenario, I don't believe one career could be better than another in terms of opportunities or perks. It's actually the person involved in the career can make that difference. So my advice, if you have gained a good z-score look for other degree courses available in State Universities and if you feel interested and have passion in that area apply for it. Think wisely, what do you want to be and your skills before wasting another precious year in your life repeating the exam.

Enroll for a degree in a State University

As I mentioned earlier do a reality check on your interests and passions before selecting a degree course to follow. Remember this decision will affect your whole career ahead. I have seen people becoming frustrated on their careers after a short period, and just doing the job for the sake of doing (which is even true for some doctors and engineers). I guess this is also one of the reasons for the low productivity in the country.

My advice is don't just select a course just because it has a higher cut-off z-score. Imagine you have a great passion in Architecture but you have a Z-Score to become eligible for Engineering, what would you select ? When you have the potential to be the next Jeffrey Bawa, why would you settle as an average civil engineer ?

So don't allow z-score to go over your dreams ;)

Following a Professional Course or enroll for a Private Degree

The facts I mentioned in the above context also applies here. Try to find unique areas of study which match with your capabilities. So don't just settle do CIMA, because your next door neighbor does it.

Apart from that another thing you should consider is the quality of the private institute you are going to enroll. What are the professional bodies they are affiliated with, if they are providing a degree, is it a internal or external degree, what sort of facilities available (libraries, labs, lecture rooms) and what is the demand for these field in the job market.

Finding a Job

Finally, next popular option of among many students is to find a job after A/Ls. Actually, what you should be targeting is a career rather than a job at this point of the life. Don't settle for jobs where you don't see a clear career growth. Most of the people blindly fall into the trap of high starting salary, without looking at the opportunities available in evolving the career. Look carefully whether the job will lock you in doing the same task for the entire life. At least the job you take should encourage you to follow a professional course by providing flexible working schedule.