What next? If you don’t get the A Level results you hoped for

10th August

Anxious students looking at results

Heathfield Community College A level students will get their results next week. For some it will be a dream come true and a clear path to their university of choice, for others it will take a bit more time and perseverance. We spoke to Ruth Sparkes, Editor of teen magazine Future Mag, for some advice on how to make sure you get the best outcome with the results you achieve.

“When A level results come out on August 16 next week, more than three quarters of students who want to go to university are likely to get into their first choice. But not everyone will get their grades – and it doesn’t mean you won’t get a degree if you still want to,” says Ruth Sparkes Editor of teen magazine, Future Mag

Last year, a record number of students – nearly 67,000 – found university places through Clearing – a system which helps universities match students who don’t have a place to courses which still have space.

“This summer we expect most universities and colleges to be offering Clearing places and there will be opportunities across the full range of subject choices,” says Helen Thorne, UCAS Director of External Relations.

“I completely ballsed up my A levels,” remembers Becky Jago, now a journalist and news presenter at ITV Anglia. “It was so disheartening.” She was rejected for her first choice university, but through Clearing she found a place at the (now) University of Bedfordshire to study for a degree in media performance – and went on to work at the likes of Capital Radio before becoming a television journalist. “Coming through Clearing wasn’t an issue at all. I just focused on what I was doing. I dealt with the rejection and just got down to the course – which I honestly loved.”

What you probably won’t find during Clearing are Oxbridge places or spaces on the most popular courses – medicine or veterinary science for instance – at elite universities, though some universities such as St Georges University London have held back spaces in medicine for students who do better than expected.

But universities virtually across the board now use Clearing, and last year’s most popular choices in Clearing were business studies, nursing, sciences, creative arts, engineering and law. Many joint subjects still have vacancies, though these courses might be more gruelling than single subjects. And it’s a hectic time – courses are snapped up and students often need to decide swiftly on their futures. Every careers adviser will advise you against making panicked decisions, and some prefer students to defer and reapply the following year.

Some universities advertise course vacancies on their websites from July when Clearing opens while others wait until around A level results. But you can only enter Clearing once you’ve got your results but don’t have a confirmed place. And more than ever now, students are using Clearing to apply to university directly for the first time, submitting a full UCAS application after they’ve completed exams – numbers of direct applicants rose by 14 per cent last year.

While universities won’t accept you through Clearing until you have results to hand, you can do a lot of legwork beforehand if you think you may have missed your grades – and remember your first choice university could still accept you on the day even with slightly lower grades.

You could research courses in the same subject at different institutions, or look at what similar subjects are offered by the same university – biomedical science instead of medicine for instance.

Universities advise students to write a list of potential courses – with bullet points and important details. You can even phone some universities in advance and register your interest and details with them, which will save time on results day – you’ll already be on their system. When you call a university in clearing, they might offer a course straight away, or want to know more – fundamentally “why this uni, why this course?”

“We want to see real keenness,” says Dr Lisette Johnston, Head of School at ScreenSpace, part of the MetFilm School in Ealing.

On the day itself, you can check UCAS Track first thing to see if you’ve been accepted, or if you’re in Clearing. If you are, remember it’s fine to feel emotional and that admission staff are friendly and used to calming tearful students. Many people on the end of the phone are student volunteers who’ve gone through the whole process themselves.

“All universities will have a minimum grade threshold,” says Dr Johnston. “But even if your grades aren’t as good as you’d hoped, you can still get a place if you’re able to express why your grades weren’t as you’d expected, and your enthusiasm for the subject shines through.”