Education & Family

A-levels: What if my grades are disappointing?

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Image caption A-level results day is not a day of celebration for everyone

Thousands of teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are preparing to receive their A-level results. Teenagers in Scotland received the results of their equivalent, Highers, earlier this month. But while most will be celebrating a crop of good results, others will be facing difficult decisions.

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.

What happens 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 be offered a place with your second option.

If you miss out on both your firm choice and your 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.

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

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, 13 August, and in the Daily Telegraph. 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 can I boost my chances of success in Clearing?

Give yourself the best chance by preparing in advance - research 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.

Can 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. However, requests for re-marking can only be done through your school or college. This is another good reason to go along to your school or college on results day.

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 guidance on the post-results service available to schools.

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Image caption Some students get a welcome surprise of better than expected grades on results day

What if my results are better than I 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.

What about waiting until next year?

You might want to think about taking a gap year and reapplying for degree courses this autumn for a place in 2016. A year out can be a chance to develop new skills which will all help for a personal statement or CV. Volunteer work, travelling or a paid job are all possibilities.

It may be better to wait a year and then 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.

Image caption Kirstie Allsopp has forged a career in property and television

Could I break out and do something else altogether?

Not everyone goes to university and many who do not go on to carve out highly successful careers - for example, 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 14 August , 09:00-17:00 on Saturday 15 and 10:00-16:00 on Sunday 16.

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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