Didn’t get the grades to get to university? Here’s what to do now.

Thursday 13th August 2020 – A level results day.

You log into UCAS and discover that you’ve been rejected from your firm and insurance choices because you haven’t got the necessary grades. You may feel like the world is caving in around you and you can feel a heaviness deep in your gut.

What do you do next? 

I suspect you might want time to yourself to reflect and regroup. That’s fine. You may not have all day, but you need to make sure that the next steps you make are thought through. Make a cuppa, sit down and spend a bit of time reflecting before going straight into action.

Many years ago, I was you. I didn’t get the grade in my French A level to study European studies and had to go through Clearing. On opening the letter (we didn’t have email then!), I instantly knew I didn’t want to re-sit the A level and realised that I wasn’t a natural modern linguist.  I would have struggled to keep up at degree level. Bradford University later got in touch to ask if I would like to study industrial technology and management. I read up about the course, talked to a few people and decided that it was a better fit for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and the experience of being a student. 

Thursday 13th August is to the Higher Education sector like Black Friday. It’s very busy so be prepared to have to spend a lot of time on the phone.

Some tips:

  • Decide if you still want to study your original subject. Perhaps, like me, you did better than expected in a different subject and really got to like it during the last couple of months.
  • If you have a chance to do so, discuss your options with your school/college and someone you trust. Ultimately, it’s your decision though, not theirs!
  • Before you pick up the phone – be prepared.  Have your UCAS details, grades from A levels and BTECs, Maths and English Language GCSEs and your postcode (it’s amazing how many people don’t know it!) so that the university can find you on the UCAS system easier and make a decision there and then.
  • Remember that if you have higher level music or dance exams, or AS levels for example, they may contribute UCAS points.
  •  Identify which universities you might want to attend and look them up on UCAS (UCAS.com) to determine if courses are going through Clearing. It is usually very clear what grades they are asking for so you don’t have to waste a call.
  • Write a list of universities, courses (including the UCAS course code) and contact details before ringing around. This will save you time.  I would suggest no more than 5 options initially and have a page for each option, so you can write notes when you ring them.

Now you’re ready to take a deep breath, and pick up the phone!

  • Don’t worry, the people on the phone are there to help you. They won’t bite!
  • Clearly explain what course you are interested in and, if asked, what grades you have. They may ask for your UCAS number/clearing reference number.
  • They may put you through to someone in the department, so be prepared to hold for a while and don’t be surprised if you have to repeat some information.
  • If you get cut off, please ring again – it happens!
  • During Clearing, it is likely that you will receive an immediate offer, which is normally unconditional based on your stated grades. If  you are even slightly interested, accept it.  You can always reject later.
  • You should receive the formal offer relatively quickly on the same day but make sure that you have the full name of the person who you spoke to, just in case.
  • Things to consider:
    • You may be offered a similar course, perhaps with another subject. Take time to find out more about that subject before formally accepting.
    • You may be offered a course with a ‘foundation year’ – this is an additional year, similar to level 3 (A levels) but studied at university or a local college. If successfully passed, you will progress to the first year the degree. If not, then you have nothing to show for the year – it is not a qualification in its own right. You also pay fees and may get a student loan for this extra year. You need to decide if the foundation year is for you or if it would be better for you to go to college to retake or get another qualification.
    • Check if you are eligible for a room in student accommodation as this may not be guaranteed if you apply via Clearing.
    • Make sure you look at the course content before formally confirming an offer – some degrees with similar titles can be quite different.
  • If you choose not to accept an offer, please reject it  – you may be stopping someone else from getting on the course.
  • If you decide to accept the course, then follow the guidance from UCAS. You will need to formally accept it via the system.
  • If at any stage, you think things have gone quiet, contact the admissions team of the university who will hopefully assure you that everything is in order. It’s better to be safe than sorry, though.
Penang Graduation

Please note, universities are making you the offer – they will not usually talk to a friend or even a parent about you, unless there is a good reason for doing so.  You must also confirm the offer, not someone on your behalf.

Remember, it’s not the end of the world if you want to take a year out to think about it or to retake a qualification. This is probably one of the most expensive purchases you will make, so give yourself time to make the right decision for you. I took a year out because I wanted to be certain I was doing the right thing. During that time, I gained extra qualifications at evening class whilst doing some part-time work. I was confident at the end of that year that my degree was right for me.

Never feel second rate because you didn’t get the grades you wanted or went to a different university from your first choice – I became dean of a business school, despite going through clearing!

Please get in touch to tell me your story.

Good luck!

June Dennis, Expert witness, consultant, trainer & freelancer in Marketing, Business & Higher Education.

Find out more here.

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