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Sixth form & college

What to do if you’re unhappy with your A Level results

Didn't get the A Level results you wanted? No matter how bad you feel the results are, all is not lost and things may well work out much better than you expect. Here are your options.

woman looking worried and brown envelope

Credit: McFishoPhoto, Cookie Studio – Shutterstock

If you don't get the A Level results needed to get into your firm or insurance university choices, it can seem like a disaster (at first). But we promise that it's not.

Once you've got past the initial disappointment, you'll realise that even if it feels like you've failed or got bad A Level results, you've got so many exciting options.

Every year, thousands of university places are available through UCAS Clearing. So, you'll still have loads of choices and plenty of opportunities to find a course that makes you happy. Or, you can take an alternative route instead.

It might sound easier said than done, but try not to worry too much if you think you've failed your A Level results, or that they're no good. This guide will talk you through what to do next.

For more tips and info about getting your results, see our full guide to A Level results day.

What to do if you think you got bad A Levels

Here's your step-by-step guide to getting through results day if you didn't get the A Level grades you needed for university:

  1. Check UCAS Extra

    Even if you're certain you've made the grades you need ahead of results day, there's no harm in being prepared. It only takes half an hour to think about a realistic backup plan. The preparation can save you lots of panic and soul-searching on results day.

    It's worth taking a look to see which courses are showing in UCAS Extra prior to results day. This is a service that lets you search for more courses if you don't get any offers from your original five uni choices.

    While you shouldn't assume that a course will be in Clearing just because it has spaces in UCAS Extra, it can help to give a good indication.

    Don't be afraid to consider options that don't immediately involve going to university. A year out for work experience, money-making or going travelling are all sensible and realistic alternatives.

    Also, there's sometimes a chance that you can sweet-talk universities, especially if you've only just missed out on your offer. Note down the numbers for the admissions and faculty offices of your insurance and first-choice universities beforehand, just in case.

  2. Don't rush into the wrong course

    You may be overwhelmed by the temptation to grab the nearest phone and ring anyone and everyone who might give you a place. However, give yourself a couple of minutes to compose yourself. It's important to stay as calm and level-headed as you can in these phone calls.

    UCAS Clearing can be a hectic process and you do need to act quickly. But it's much better to wait five minutes first if you're feeling stressed.

    Take a bit of time to get a clear head and call a university you're genuinely interested in.

  3. Research universities and courses before you ring

    Man on the phone

    Credit: GaudiLab – Shutterstock

    You can find out which courses have spaces in Clearing on the UCAS website or on individual university sites.

    Always make sure you've done your research before you call a uni.

    You'll sound like a much more attractive candidate if you know a little about the university and why you particularly want to go there. You don't want it to sound as though you only just heard about the course that day – regardless of whether or not you did!

    And, although it's not something to bring up during the call, you could hedge your bets a little by knowing which universities are the easiest to get into.

    Make sure you've got your own questions too. For example, you could ask about student accommodation, open days and the process of accepting offers. With good questions, you'll sound much more engaged and enthusiastic.

  4. Ask for advice

    While you'll have a lot on your plate, don't forget to keep the people who care about you updated. Parents and guardians who have never been in the same situation are going to feel just as stressed as you are, especially if they're not kept in the loop.

    It's also a good idea to talk things through with your friends, family and teachers. They all know you well, so may point out some things you've overlooked.

    Colleges and sixth forms will often have advisers on hand to speak to on the day. It's worth listening to what other people have to say, even if you don't agree with their advice.

  5. Try to get a few offers

    Getting offered a place will seem like a massive load off your shoulders. But that doesn't mean you should stop searching straight away.

    Treat Clearing just like your original application and try to find a variety of options before making your final choice.

    Most courses will give you between 24 and 48 hours to accept their offers. There is plenty of time to mull over your options.

    Don't be afraid to turn them all down if you feel they're not right for you. It's much better to wait a year and do something else instead of starting a course that doesn't suit you. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a position where you're thinking about dropping out of university.

Whatever happens, remember that getting A Level results you're unhappy with and going through UCAS Clearing really isn't the end of the world. You'll find the route that best suits you.

There are such exciting things ahead, so don't panic.

Nicole student case study

Don't rush your decision because you're freaking out about not having a place.

Do as much research about the course as you can and don't worry about your grades – it sucks if you don't get what you want, but it won't affect your life.

I've had 11 jobs and have never been asked what grades I got at A Level once.

Nicole, studied English and Media at the University of Portsmouth

Unsure whether uni is right for you? You might want to consider an alternative to university like an apprenticeship, a professional job or even becoming an entrepreneur.

Jem Collins

WRITTEN BY Jem Collins

Jem Collins, founder of Journo Resources, is an experienced journalist who has written for the i, Metro and more. For Save the Student, she's shared tips on topics related to careers, health, saving money and more.
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