A level results day – what if things don’t go to plan?

A level results day is a milestone date in the lives of young people and parents, involving an emotional rollercoaster of anticipation, nervousness, joy or despair, and for some, a time when plans have to be changed.

You may do better than expected, and decide at the last minute that you want to go to university after all, or have decided that you want to go to another university that has higher entry requirements than those you originally applied for. Alternatively, you may not achieve the grades needed to meet the conditions of your offers. If you are in the latter situation, you may still be able to keep your place, find a course at another university or consider alternatives to going to university full time.

Here are some tips on what to do if you find yourself in any of these situations:

My results were below what I need….

Contact your first and insurance choice universities

You should check on UCAS Track or contact your universities to see if your offers still stand. Your first or insurance choices might be flexible, so get in touch as soon as you can. Don’t email, find the telephone number on their website and make sure that you speak to someone.

Also, it is YOU who needs to talk to the university, not your parents! Be patient, remember that there are many other young people in the same or similar situation as you, and it is a BUSY time! Also, be available – universities may need to talk to you so make sure that you can be contacted quickly! Your universities might make you an alternative offer, note that you do NOT have to accept this.

If necessary, apply through Clearing

Clearing is not only for students who have been declined by their universities on results day. It is for those who:

  • Apply to university after 30th June, or
  • Have been rejected by their first and insurance choice universities, or
  • Have changed their mind about what they want to study, or
  • Have decided that they do not want to accept their original offers

UCAS Clearing lets you apply for university places that are still available after the main round of applications made up to 15th January. It is often thought of as a system where desperate students apply to universities that they don’t particularly want to go to for courses they don’t really want to do.

This view is outdated and incorrect. Around 10% of students use Clearing each year: in 2016, 40,000 courses were available, including those offered by Russell Group universities. Students have secured places for prestigious degrees such as law, economics, business and psychology at well-respected universities such as Durham, Queen Mary College, London and Exeter, through Clearing. There have even been cases of students being offered places at institutions requiring higher A level grades than their original choices!

Clearing in fact opens in July and you can apply BEFORE you get A level (or other qualification) results. If you see Clearing vacancies advertised that appeal to you, it could be worth applying before results day giving you a head start before the rush.

Consider other options….

There are now higher and degree apprenticeships which involve employment on a salary and being sent to university or college to take higher education qualifications up to masters degree level. Universities such as Warwick, Leeds and Aston, among others, offer degree apprenticeships which give the opportunity to complete higher education without any debt, the government funds 2/3 of the costs, the employer 1/3. A recent survey of parents revealed that 61% would prefer their son or daughter did a degree apprenticeship rather than go to Oxford or Cambridge University! See the useful sources of information list at the end of this article for more information.

There is the option of retaking A levels but there are risks with this eg not achieving the grades required a second time. Also, universities have been known to ‘raise the bar’ ie require even higher grades where students are retaking A levels. Think about this carefully eg if there were good reasons for lower grades first time around such as bereavement or illness, then consider retakes (although the A level awarding bodies should have been notified of issues like these when you were sitting your exams).

I have done better in my exams than I expected…

If you had applied to university before 30th June and achieve higher grades than you needed for your first choice university course, you can apply to universities with higher entry requirements through UCAS Adjustment.
Adjustment gives you up to five days to look for available courses and you won’t need to give up your original offer until you accept a new one, so there is no harm in taking a look. You must register for Adjustment through UCAS Track.

My exam results look wrong, what can I do?

If an individual grade or paper is uncharacteristically low compared to others, or you are very close to a grade boundary or you think there is something missing from your results, speak to your school immediately (preferably the school exams officer) and they will contact the awarding body on your behalf. If you want a re-mark to try and make your university place then request a priority remark. You must let the university know that you are doing this.

Can I defer my university place after exam results day?

There is no specific rule about this, you will need to contact your university directly and ask if you can defer.

Why would you want to do this? It is best to have a good reason, such as a job or voluntary work placement which might enhance your university experience later. If the university declines this then you can give up your place and reapply next year, but only do this if you have a sound reason to.


Useful sources of advice


Written by Ray Le Tarouilly, Careers Adviser

Ray’s new book Choose the Right A Levels is publishing in October

Find out more