I didn't get the A-level/ Highers results I wanted... This is what happened next!

This article was last updated on 22 June 2021

Results day for A-levels and Scottish Highers can be tough. You may not have got the grades you need, or you might be having second thoughts about what you want to do next. Whatever happens, these four people have already been through it – and they’re here to tell you things will turn out OK.

I went through Clearing - and I’m loving my new uni

Rashidah studied English Literature, Economics and Sociology for her A-levels. She wanted to study Business Management and Marketing at university. However, she didn’t quite make the grades she needed, so had to go through Clearing instead.

“I was really scared on results day. I didn't want to fail anything and resit exams. I had conditional offers for three Bs. In the end I got BBD. I was disappointed I got a D in Economics. My results meant I didn't get into my firm or insurance choice, so I started researching potential unis for Clearing and called them up.

“The Clearing process was really simple: I went through the Clearing courses that were available on UCAS and I called the universities I liked to find out whether the course was still available – because certain courses fill up fairly quickly. I got a place at the University of Leicester to study Management Studies (Marketing). It was approved much faster than I thought. Once I found out, I was really excited because I knew people who went to the University of Leicester and really enjoyed it.

University is what you make it, so no matter where you end up, you can still have a great time.

“I’d say to anyone who’s worried about their results, everything will work out. Going through Clearing is really common, so don't worry if that's what you end up having to do. Look at where the course you want to study ranks on the league tables to narrow down your options. Research the university, find out the entry requirements and whether your course is available through Clearing, then call them up for further information.”

Ben Jordan is Head of Policy at UCAS. He says that even if you didn’t get the grades for your conditional offer, the university may still accept you: “Speak to your teaching advisor, make contact with the university – they might have similar courses that are suitable. Take your time to think about your options. You’re going to be making a commitment for the next few years, so you need to think it through. And search for courses on ucas.com – there are up to 35,000 courses available for students to explore.”

My advice for results day? Be prepared

Curtis is 19 and studied Maths, Chemistry and History for A-levels. He had applied to do Law at Oxford or Warwick University, but on results day he didn’t get the grades he needed for either university. Curtis went through Clearing and says he’s happy now where he is.

“Maybe it was paranoia but I had a feeling after my exams about my results. So, I looked at what was on Clearing for the year before. I made a spreadsheet of what might happen – so I knew what university I could go to depending on what different grades I got. On the day I had all the phone numbers ready.

“I was still a bit shocked on results day but I knew I had to stay calm and go into Clearing. I phoned around six hotlines. I had called Warwick University a few times but I couldn’t get through. My dad and I stopped for lunch, and afterwards I did get through. I was looking for humanities subjects, and I managed to get myself a place at Warwick, studying History and Philosophy.

“I've enjoyed my first year a lot. Though the course wasn't what I intended on studying, it's been an engaging year academically. At university I have managed to find people in a similar position to me, which has been reassuring – but I don't feel any different to people who made their offers.

“I have learned about being prepared and staying calm in that kind of situation – and knowing everything will be alright in the end. Sometimes things don’t go to plan but at least you’ve got something as a back-up.

“If you have got a feeling about your exam results then be prepared. Have a look at other things that might be of interest. Look at other unis. Stay calm and make sure you get where you want to be. You’ll end up somewhere really good and you'll enjoy uni life wherever it is.”

Ben from UCAS says: “Clearing is officially open from 5th July, and it is open for a few weeks after results day. Students can think about their options now if they wish. Clearing is there for all students: those that changed their mind, those who have not met the terms of their offer, and those who decide to apply directly through Clearing."

I took a gap year after my results to figure things out

Francisca is 20 and studying Geography at university. She took English Literature, Geography and Applied Science in her final year of A-levels. She hoped to go to university, but after not achieving the results she wanted she decided to take some time out.

“I did really well in my GCSEs but found it stressful. A-levels were a different ball game. I found them more difficult than uni because you are learning so much new content at such a high level; and you only have two years to change the way you think and learn.

“I went through a bad time with my mental health during A-levels and couldn’t voice it – I didn’t know where to get help. I didn’t do as well as I’d expected in my Geography A-level. There was disappointment. When you’re an overachiever and then that one time you’re not, it feels like your whole world is ruined. But I’m not a failure – I know my abilities.

“I still got into university but then I withdrew. I went to see unis closer to home, but in the end I cancelled my student finance application and decided to take a gap year. During that year, I did my UCAS application all over again. I had a better personal statement as I had really thought about it this time around.

“I also worked a few different jobs. I learned a lot about myself, I became a different person. You’re alone, your friends have gone to uni, your family are still working... I had to find my feet and learn how to do things by myself.

I feel more secure in myself – my time management and communication skills have improved.

“My advice when applying for uni is to apply for a range of universities with a range of grade expectations. Even if you are an A* student, don’t just go for Oxford and Cambridge or all the top unis.

“I would also say have a plan B for results day. Make sure that if you’re going through Clearing or Adjustment that you’ve got that planned. Think too about work or apprenticeship schemes, or degree apprenticeship schemes. Even within the education system we all work differently. Some people are better at exams, some are better at coursework.”

Ben from UCAS says: “If you have changed your mind about your firm uni choice, you can decline your place and release yourself into Clearing – which means you’re free from any contractual relationship with the uni and can explore opportunities elsewhere. Speak to a teaching advisor and the university first before you go ahead.”

I did a degree apprenticeship instead of going to uni

Ashleigh is 21 and lives in South Wales. She studied Maths, Further Maths, and Physics for A-level, as well as her Welsh Baccalaureate. She had high predicted grades, but didn’t do as well as she’d hoped. So she’s taking a different route towards a degree.

“During my A-levels I applied to do Electrical Engineering at Bath University. I needed two A*s and an A, but the grade expectations for me were lowered to two As and a B. Universities often do that for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“I also applied to do a few apprenticeships. I wasn’t that into the idea of university social life, and the idea of student debt really put me off. I had good GCSE results – four A*s, five As and four Bs – which impressed employers when I started taking my CV to places. One company told me they’d take me on even if I failed my A-levels – they would put me on a Level 3 apprenticeship instead. Because of that offer, I worked really hard in Maths.

On results day I knew it didn’t matter what I got because I already had a plan.

“I was still really stressed in the days leading up to exam results. On the Monday before, I withdrew my UCAS form – because I couldn't deal with the rejection of not getting into university. I knew my Physics exam had gone really badly. But at least I had a plan. I started my apprenticeship and I did an HNC (Higher National Certificate) – a Level 4 qualification. I’m now doing a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering.

It just takes a bit more work to hunt down those other opportunities.

“I’m happy with where I am now. I feel like I made the right decisions for me. Based on my predicted grades, people told me that not going to uni would be a waste, but it’s just not for everyone. There are so many more options – you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.”

Ben from UCAS says: “Higher education comes in many different forms, including Degree Apprenticeships. Think of what form of study works for you, and what you want from your higher education experience. If you want university, where you’re not in every day of the week, then think of an undergraduate course. If you want more hands-on employment then a Degree Apprenticeship, or Level 3 or 4 Apprenticeship is best. UCAS.com describes what each different pathway looks like.”

To find out more about Degree Apprenticeships, go here.

Check out the UCAS website for the lowdown on Clearing.

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