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Sixth form & college

Not happy with your A Level results? Your next steps

Didn't get the A Level results you wanted? All is not lost and things could actually end out working out better than you expect – here are your options.

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If you don't get the A Level results needed to get into your choice of university, it can seem like a disaster. But once you've got through all the tears and tantrums, it's time to knuckle down and assess your options.

Every year thousands of course places are available through UCAS Clearing, so you'll still have plenty of choices and plenty of opportunities to find a course that makes you happy – or an alternative route instead.

So if you’re waiting for, or have already received, your A Level results, this guide is here to make sure you're clued up on what to do if things don’t go exactly to plan. Because you're still going to be awesome, whatever's in that envelope!

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What to do if you don't get the grades you need for uni

It isn't a situation anyone wants to be in, but missing the grades you hoped to get isn't going to destroy your chances of success forever.

Here's your step-by-step guide to getting through results day when it doesn't quite go to plan:

  1. Check UCAS Extra first

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    Even if you’re certain you’ve made the grades you need, there’s no harm in being prepared. It only takes half an hour to think about a realistic back-up plan and 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 which allows you to 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 things that don’t immediately involve university; a year out for work experience, money making, going travelling or simply improving your grades are all sensible and realistic options.

    Also, there’s sometimes a chance that you can sweet talk universities, especially if you’ve only just missed out on your offer. So, make sure you’ve got the admissions and faculty numbers of your insurance and first choice plugged into your phone beforehand, just in case.

  2. Don't rush into the wrong course

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    You may be overwhelmed by the temptation to grab any available phone and ring anyone and everyone who may give you a place, but give yourself a couple of minutes first; no one wants to speak to a blubbering mess.

    Though Clearing is hectic and you do need to act quickly, it’s much better to wait five minutes, get a clear head and call a university you're actually interested in, than just phoning up the first number you see in tears and begging them to take you.

  3. Do your research before you ring

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

    Always make sure you’ve done your homework before you ring up a university. 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, than if it sounds like you only just heard about the course today – regardless of whether you did or not!

    Make sure you’ve got your own questions too; there’ll be key details about accommodation, open days and accepting offers to find out and you’ll sound much more engaged and enthusiastic.

  4. Ask for advice

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    While you might feel pretty rubbish, 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 be feeling just as stressed as you are, especially if they don’t have a clue what’s going on.

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

    Colleges and sixth forms will often have advisers on hand to speak to on the day and it is worth listening to what other people have to say, even if you choose not to agree!

  5. Try to get a few offers

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    The sense of relief when you're offered a place will seem like a massive load off your shoulders, but that doesn’t mean you should stop searching.

    Treat Clearing just like your original application and try to find a variety of options before settling for one.

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

    Don’t be afraid of turning them all down if you feel they’re not right for you. It’s much better (and cheaper) to wait a year and do something else than start a course you’re not happy with and end up dropping out.

Whatever happens, remember that going through Clearing is not the end of the world and will not determine the rest of your life. Every year hundreds of students go through Clearing before going on to achieve brilliant things – so don't panic!

Clearing UKDon'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

We've got loads more information on finding a course through Clearing and what you need to do once you've accepted an offer.

If you think university is maybe not for you then you can try an alternative to university like an apprenticeship or a professional job. You never know, you might be the next Richard Branson.


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