Education & Family

Q&A: What if my A-level results don't make the grade?

sad teenager
Image caption A-level results day can be a difficult one for many teenagers

While tens of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be celebrating their success on A-level results day, others will be facing difficult decisions. Teenagers in Scotland received the results of their equivalent, Highers, earlier this month.

The BBC News website offers some pointers for those who did not get the grades they needed or were hoping for.

What should I do on A-level results day?

You may get your results by text, online, email or in the post, but it is still a good idea to go to your school or college on results day. By doing this, you can get help and advice from your teachers. Universities will have already got your results, and you can use the Ucas Track system to trace the progress of your application.

What should I do if I do not get the grades I need?

Try not to panic, because there are options open to you. If you do not have the grades for your first-choice university or course, you may get offered a place with your second option.

If you still want to go to university, you can try to get a place through Clearing, but most places go within a few days and you will need to act decisively and fast.

How do I get a university place through Clearing?

Clearing is a system offered by the university admissions service, Ucas, that finds suitable vacancies on degree courses. If you are flexible and have reasonably good exam results, there is a good chance of finding a course.

You can approach as many universities as you wish during Clearing, so do not feel that you have to accept the first offer.

How do I find out what courses are available and choose the best one for me?

Official vacancy lists are published on results day on the Ucas website from 00:01 BST on Thursday, 15 August, and in the Telegraph newspaper. You do not have to stick to the subject choices that you made originally. There may be other areas that might suit you better on the basis of the grades you have.

How do I give myself the best chance of getting a place through Clearing?

You can prepare in advance by researching courses and universities that are of interest to you.

Plan to get your results as early in the day as you can to give yourself a head start. Universities and colleges will want to speak to you directly, not to your parents. Be prepared to explain why you want to study on that course.

How do I challenge my results?

If you feel strongly that your grades are wrong and do not reflect your ability, you can ask for a re-mark of your papers. Requests for re-marking can only be done through your school or college.

Priority re-marks can be requested for those students with university places at stake. There is a fee for this service, which is reimbursed only if there is a grade change. The Joint Council for Qualifications has guidelines on the Post-results service available to schools.

What if I get better grades than expected?

Ucas operates a system called Adjustment for those candidates who get better results than expected and want to try for a more competitive university. Candidates have a five-day window in which to showcase their application to universities.

If you do not find a suitable place somewhere else through Adjustment, you will remain accepted at your original choice.

Would it be better to wait until next year and try again?

There is always the possibility of taking a gap year and perhaps doing some volunteer work, travelling or getting a job.

You could also ask your local further education college for information about other routes to degree-level qualifications, such as foundation degrees and diplomas.

It may be better to wait a year and go somewhere that is right for you rather than make a hasty decision you will regret later.

Could I do something else altogether?

Not everyone goes to university and many who do not go carve out highly successful careers - take Sir Richard Branson or Lord Alan Sugar. Some careers such as accountancy can be pursued with qualifications you study for while working. Apprenticeships are an option, although there can be stiff competition. Vacancies are listed on the National Apprenticeships Service website. Sites such as Not Going to Uni might give you a few ideas.

But remember, many professions such as teaching and law do require a degree and you could find that some doors are closed to you later in life (or are much harder to open) if you do not have one.

Where can I go for advice?

The Ucas website has lots of advice about navigating Clearing and Adjustment. You can follow Ucas on Twitter @ucas_online or on for up-to-date information.

For information on your own progress you can also call the Ucas customer contact centre on 0871 468 0 468. Calls cost 9p/min from most landlines, while calls from mobiles may cost considerably more. Lines are normally open 0830-1800 and are open 0730-2000 on Thursday 15 August, 0800-1900 on Friday 16, 0900-1700 on Saturday 17 and 1000-1600 on Sunday 18.

For more general careers advice you can also call the national Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000, which is run by Ucas on behalf of the Department for Education. It is staffed by careers advisers, is already open and will run for 10 days after results day. Calls are free from most landlines. Some networks and mobile operators will charge for these calls.

The government website Gov.UK might also help you make decisions.

If you need help with career choices, you can also call an adviser at the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900.

I am Scottish and did not do well in my Highers. What can I do?

The government-funded agency, Skills Development Scotland, has a helpline on 0800 917 8000 that offers advice. Scottish students can still use Ucas and its services to find a university place.

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