A-level results: what to do next?

A-level results day has come and gone. You open the local newspaper to find photos of 'EXCEPTIONAL' classmates doing that jump for joy that's obligatory for all soon to be undergrads. As you spitefully fill in their teeth with a marker pen, the envelope of failure taunts you and reminds you how different things could have been...and we all thought exams were getting easier, eh?

Just because you didn't get the results you needed, it doesn't mean it's the end of the world. With the likes of Sir Michael Caine, Simon Cowell and Mark Zuckerberg failing to get any qualifications of note, there's no need to be so pessimistic with an abundance of options available to help you get back on track.

So you didn't get the results

Sometimes things just don't go your way, but whether you continue to chase the grades or choose to down pens entirely, there's plenty of options available to you if you didn't get the results you wanted. 


Though the term hardly denotes 'opportunity,' Clearing is the ultimate summer buzzword and a term that consistently confuses parents year after year.

So what exactly is Clearing? Put simply, Clearing enables universities to fill vacancies that they still have on their courses. These vacancies are open from July to September and students who have their exam results (but are without a confirmed place) are free to apply for them directly. More than 60K students gained a university place through Clearing in 2014 and this accounted for 9% of all places taken. 

With no obligation to apply for the same degree as before though, students can find themselves on a completely different career path and this therefore requires some consideration before going application happy. Any decision you make will cost in excess of £40K and three years of your life, so try and choose a subject area that you're passionate about or will make you more employable.

All Clearing vacancies can be found via UCAS and the Telegraph. After finding a course you're interested in, you'll be expected to phone the University directly to see if they will accept you. You will need to have your ID number and Clearing number to hand (this can be found on Track) and don't be surprised if this turns into a mini interview. They may ask why you're interested in the subject or why you think you'd be a good fit for the uni, so try and have something better prepared than 'because I'm a failure at life and couldn't get into my first choices.' Fingers crossed, they will make you a verbal offer which you can then enter into Track. Remember that few universities have freephone numbers, so watch the minutes!

Any decision you make will cost in excess of £40K and three years of your life, so try and choose a subject area that you're passionate about or will make you more employable.


Universities are under pressure to fill courses and this means that they're likely to lower entry requirements once all confirmed places have been taken. Though this may improve your chances in some cases, competition is high so it pays to be decisive and a little flexible.  


When students have just fallen short but find themselves right on the borderline between grades, a re-mark could make the difference between being accepted into uni or falling into Clearing. In 2014, around one in five appeals led to a change of grades, so it can be worthwhile if you or your school feel that your paper was marked harshly. 

Appeals for a priority re-mark have to be made by the school or college, so your first port of call is to speak to your teachers. If they agree that a re-mark would be appropriate, they can arrange to have your exam assessed by a different examiner. These typically come at a cost and policies will vary between schools on who foots the bill.

The average time taken for a priority re-mark last year was ten days, so be sure to act swiftly. It's also important to remember that grades can go down as well as up. Even though the number of appeals has increased, the improval of grades haven't, so only insist on a re-mark if you genuinely think you'd profit.  


If you're unwilling to compromise on your career plans (and why should you?), it's possible to re-sit your A-levels. The majority of universities, although not all, accept re-sit results, so there's no reason why you can't eventually get to where you want to be.

The first step is to talk to your school or college who will advise you on the best thing to do. Some will encourage independent study, whilst others may have the capabilities to allow you to retake the whole year. Government reforms however, now mean that you can't re-sit the exam until the following summer, so be sure to manage your time wisely. 

Alternative routes

University isn't the only option and regardless of you results, you might be having second thoughts about jumping straight back into academic study. With all the pressure of the past few months, it can be easily to forget that progression doesn't end at red bricks and that other paths might be more suited to you. 

Gap year

While a gap year can afford you time to think and re-evaluate your career trajectory, it can also make you more attractive to universities and business owners in the future.

Every year, more and more students are deciding to put their studies on hold to go and experience the 'real world.' More than just one long holiday though, this productive 12 months can take many different forms and could include volunteering, travel or a year in industry. Although a gap year shouldn't be taken lightly, the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people and discover new passions is an attractive proposition for school leavers.

Before embarking on this adventure however, it's important to have a clear plan in place. Backpacking across Europe might seem like a fun idea now, but what are you going to do when you return? Having a clear end goal will enable you to make the most of your gap year and help you stay motivated when you restart your studies. 


Although a gap year shouldn't be taken lightly, the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people and discover new passions is an attractive proposition for school leavers.

If you make this decision after receiving a university offer you will need to defer your place. This essentially means asking them to hold your position on the course until you return. Some won't agree to this, others will stipulate conditions, it's just a matter of talking to the admissions team and explaining the situation. You're only able to defer once though, so make sure you choose the time that's right for you. 


If you've been put off by the rise in tuition fees, apprenticeships offer an earn while you learn alternative with a greater chance of secured employment at the end. There are currently more than 800K apprentices in the UK and this method has become a popular way of combining hands on experience with academic study. 

Apprenticeships are offered by some the country's most high profile firms and candidates can be trained in a diverse range of vocations from construction to catering. There are three levels that you can work towards: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher. An Advanced qualification is comparable to two A-levels, whilst a Higher Apprenticeship leads to an NVQ and potentially the equivalent of a foundation degree.

There are over 1500 professions that provide apprenticeships so don't feel that your career path is in anyway limited. Different courses may require GCSEs or A-levels for entry though, so do your research and don't be afraid to retake exams if you're determined to get on to a work based training scheme. 

Get a job...

Just because you don't have a degree doesn't mean that you can't start climbing the corporate ladder. While the job market is more competitive than ever, companies are always on the look out for young and enthusiastic staff who they can mould to excel in a particular field. 

Grades aren't everything, and while they can certainly give you a step up on the competition, employers are increasingly focusing on personality and skills as opposed to academic achievements.

Here at Agency Central, you can find local recruitment agencies who will be able to put you in touch with the right job opportunities for your needs. Alternatively, you can hit the job boards or try your hand at networking. Whatever you choose, there's a variety of tools available to help start your career.  

And what if you exceeded expectations?

Whether through hard work or a shooting star, some people will get better results than they were expecting. If this is you, then congratulations, but breaking your proverbial grades ceiling can lead to a re-evaluation of your plans. 


In 2009, UCAS introduced Adjustment, a process that enables applicants to change their course and university choices if their improved results allow. Everyone loves an underdog and overachieving students are being rewarded with the opportunity to re-apply for courses that have a higher barrier to entry.

In order to qualify for Adjustment, you must have a confirmed university offer and you must have exceeded the conditions of that offer. For example, if your first or insurance choice uni requested BBB and you achieved ABB, you have the opportunity to swap your course. Although this window is open until the 31st of August, you're only afforded five days to find a place from the point that you register on UCAS Track.


Everyone loves an underdog and overachieving students are being rewarded with the opportunity to re-apply for courses that have a higher barrier to entry.

After registering, it's time to call the universities you're interested in and let them know that you'd like to apply for one of their vacancies via the Adjustment process. It doesn't matter if you have had previous correspondence with the University or not, but be aware that there's no list of participating establishments and making hopeful phone calls can be time consuming (and costly!).

Entering this process doesn't mean you automatically forfeit your current place, so there's no harm in looking around if you're curious. Don't be swayed by a name though, a more prestigious university doesn't necessary equate to a better experience.

So Relax...

For every problem there's a solution, so whatever predicament you find yourself in this summer there is an array options available to help you achieve your goals. Whether you're still determined to go to university or you fancy the adventure of a year abroad, a piece a paper won't hold you back providing you have the drive to succeed. 

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