As students eagerly and fearfully await their A level results this week, it is very easy to feel that everything depends upon the difference between an A or a B grade. Of course, when that fateful day arrives, this could make the difference between that coveted place at university and the dreaded Clearing phonelines.
Having worked with Sixth Form students for 30 years, I have seen tears of joy and sadness on results day. The initial shock of failing to get the hoped-for results can leave students, and parents, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and that they have failed themselves and others. This is a natural and understandable reaction, but it is not a useful one. Far more often than not, the students who don’t get the results they had hoped for, move forward over time to achieve far more than they thought possible during the hours and days after opening that envelope.
If things do go wrong:
Do consider Clearing.
There are some excellent courses at very good universities still available, and some absolute gems can be gained with grades below the usual entry requirement in the hours and days following the publication of results. Have your Clearing number, UCAS id and statement of results to hand as you make the call and do make the call yourself as the student, as this makes a difference to the person making a quick decision on the other end.
Do consider courses other than the one for which you initially applied.
It may be that, since deciding your courses nearly a year ago, your thinking has shifted a little, and this could be the opportunity to cast the net wider. Often, students and their parents have fixed views about what is considered a ‘good’ university, thereby being in danger of missing out on excellent opportunities for the sake of what sounds good at dinner parties with friends! Also, courses which don’t have obvious titles can be undersubscribed, offering stimulating programmes in fascinating subjects. Don’t jump at just anything, though, as a way to resolve the crisis; an academic and financial decision for at least three years of your life is not something to consider in a mad rush.
Think about a gap year
You may not have planned for a gap year, and sometimes parents are very wary of allowing students to step off the academic treadmill in case they lose momentum. But, in fact, a well-used gap year is far from being a year off; rather, it can create space and time to reconsider priorities without the pressure of exams, to gain valuable work experience which can seriously enhance future applications, and to strengthen the student’s academic profile in order to reapply from a position of real strength. I have seen students fail to get that coveted place in medicine, for example, being highly successful the following year, after gaining that all-important experience in a care setting; this could be in a hospital abroad, adding hugely valuable life experience into the mix. Equally, I have seen students spend some time away (often more than one year) and return with a completely different perspective on what they wish to achieve and reapplying with far more vigour and commitment than they had felt the first time around.
Do get advice
Your school will be happy to offer advice and so will other local institutions such as Sixth Form colleges. We are happy to offer free no-commitment advice on any aspect of study. Our expert staff have many years’ experience of supporting students to plan for resits, alternative courses or other pathways to achieve your ambitions.
Brian McGee, Vice Principal