A-Level Results: What to do if you don't get the grades you wanted

So you didn't do too well. First thing: don't panic. You have far more options open to you than you might think. Remember: thousands of others are in exactly the same situation as you. You're not on your own.

But whatever you choose to do over the next few days and weeks could change your life. That can be a great thing, but you have to keep a clear head and work through your options.

Help! I've failed badly

You may be feeling a little low at the moment but chill out and think about it for a second - you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want to do. If you're in a bit of a state, it's important to be cool about the situation.

You're here because you're thinking about the gap year option. But the next step has to be to understand all your options so you can make your decision for the right reasons.

I can't deal with my parents

If you think your parents feel let down by you, stop now. These are your results and it's your future - so start thinking about it from your point of view. Your parents might be concerned - they want you to do well - but this doesn't mean they're disappointed in you. Get them to help you reach the solution or, if you prefer, ask them to give you some space while you work out what you want to do next.

I've missed out on the university of my choice

Wherever you end up, you'll have a great time. But don't rush headlong into Clearing without thinking about which course you want to do. The course can be the more important thing. But remember that some unis have better reputations than others (especially if they specialise in a given subject area) so some employers will look more favourably on you if your degree comes from a place with a good reputation in your subject.

If you've missed out on the course of your choice, you need to think fast. Do you take steps to find a place on a similar course, or do you set your sights on another? Get this straight in your head before you start looking for a place.

Can I still take a gap year after losing my uni place?

If you'd planned to defer your chosen place to take a gap year, and now that place is lost, you might be feeling like your gap year plans are in tatters. Not true - but you do need to resolve your university situation before you go on your gap year. This might mean abandoning a placement or flight tickets if you're scheduled to leave tomorrow. Be flexible. Don't set off leaving your situation up in the air.

I just want to get out of here

Running away is the worst thing you can do - no matter how tempting it might seem now. You're in a difficult situation but one which can - and will - be sorted out. But only if you stick around to face it. A gap year is a great idea but you'll enjoy it more if you have a plan in place for when you get back.

So what are your options...

1. Re-sit

This may be an option. If you are determined to get the grades you want and get onto a particular course, then you may have to re-sit.

We would recommend that you exhaust all other possibilities before re-sitting, as it can be a demoralising year. But if you do decide this is right for you, bear the following in mind:

  • Was there a reason why your results were not what you'd hoped?
  • How can you be sure that you'd do better next time?
  • Would you get bored and give up?
  • Would it be worth trying a different, one-year course?
  • Is the course or university to which you plan to go happy with re-sits?

2. Re-focus

Your results may be an indicator of something more deep-seated than a few off days in the exam room. Turn this around, use these signs to re-evaluate where you're heading and what you want to do.

Consider the following questions and take time out to evaluate...

  • Is the academic route the best for you?
  • Can you get where you want via employment-based training?
  • How about looking at job opportunities?
  • Remember there are no time or age limits on most degrees: it could be better to take a higher level qualification later, maybe part-time or by distance learning

3. Clearing

If your results are lower than expected, you might well still find a suitable course through Clearing - perhaps even more suitable than the one you were aiming for. But make sure it is suitable: don't take anything just for the sake of it.

Check out the course: go to your careers room and read up on universities. Also, check out the place. A visit to the town or city is advisable; you'll be there for three years. Other things to think about; Have you considered a Higher National Diploma? Usually these are two years in length and more vocational. Also, many can be converted to degrees later.

4. Re-apply next year

Another option is to reapply next year. The obvious benefit of this is that you know your grades before you apply. We would suggest, however, that you make some effort to sort out a suitable place at university before you go away.

Get UCAS to send you an application form before you go - at least then you've applied even though you won't know the result. All this is far better than leaving it up in the air while you're away.

5. Relax - take a gap year!

Your meandering through our pages has brought you to the brink of the greatest and most rewarding adventure of your life: a gap year. Before you decide though, there a few things to sort out:

  • Make sure that any possible university course is happy for you to take a gap year.
  • Can you be around for applications or interviews if you reapply for university next year?
  • Will you lose your 'study momentum'? Or will a break help you to come back with fresh enthusiasm and focus?
  • Have you taken top-up fees into account?

6. Get a job

With things not going exactly your way, it may be tempting to look to the world of work to get you started on the career ladder. The thought of cash in your sky-rocket played off against the prospect of penniless studentdom is an alluring prospect.

We would strongly advise, however, that if you can get a suitable university place or take a gap year to reassess your ideas you carefully consider these options before getting a job.

In years to come, you could well find yourself looking back at missed opportunities when you should be reminiscing about your excellent time at uni, or your marvellous gap year.

Whatever you decide, think positive. Next year could end up being one of the best of your life. The choice is, as they say, yours. So take your time.


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