Education & Family

What if my A-level grades are worse than I'd expected?

crying girl Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A-level results day is not a day of celebration for everyone

While thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be celebrating good grades 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 schools can use the Ucas Track system to trace the progress of students' 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.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption There are always options, even in the face of disappointment

If you miss out on both your firm and insurance choice and still want to go to university, you can try to get a place through Clearing. However, most spare places are filled within a few days, so you will need to act decisively and fast.

Nick Davy from the Association of Colleges will answer your questions and concerns on the BBC News Facebook page from 1530 BST. Send us your questions.

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, 14 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?

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Image caption Some students find they get better grades than predicted

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 - and reapplying for degree courses this autumn for 2015.

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.

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

Could I do something else altogether?

Image caption Karren Brady has had a successful entrepreneurial career

Not everyone goes to university and many who do not go carve out highly successful careers - take Sir Richard Branson, Lord Alan Sugar, Kirstie Allsopp and Karren Brady. Some careers such as accountancy can be pursued with qualifications you study for while working. Apprenticeships are also an option - 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 support centre on 0371 468 0468. Lines will be open from 0730-2000 on results day, 08:00-19:00 on Friday, 15 August , 09:00-17:00 on Saturday 16 and 10:00-16:00 on Sunday 17.

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 and selected mobile networks.

The government website 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 (open 09:00 to 17:30, seven days a week) that offers advice. Scottish students can still use Ucas and its services to find a university place.

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