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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? 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.

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If you don't get the A Level results needed to get into your firm or insurance university choices, it can seem (at first) like a disaster – 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 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 an alternative route instead.

So, it might sound easier said than done, but try not to worry too much if you think that your A Level results are not good or that you've failed them. 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

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

    Remember that, as exams were cancelled in 2020/21 due to coronavirus, you'll also have the option to appeal your teacher-assessed grades or take the exams in autumn. We explain this in more detail in our guide to getting A Level results.

    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 numbers for the admissions and faculty offices of your insurance and first choice universities saved on 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 the nearest available phone and ring anyone and everyone who may give you a place, but 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.

    Though UCAS Clearing can be a hectic process and you do need to act quickly, 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, instead of phoning up the first number you see in tears and begging them to take you.

  3. Research universities and courses before you ring

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

    Always make sure you've done your research 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 that day – regardless of whether you did or not!

    And, although it's not something bring up during your 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, to find out about student accommodation, open days and accepting offers. With good questions, you'll sound much more engaged and enthusiastic.

  4. Ask for advice

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    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 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'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

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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 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 – 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 (and cheaper) to wait a year and do something else instead of starting a course you're not happy with and end up dropping out.

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, and 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

If you're 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.


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