student life

A-level results: What if I don’t get the grades I wanted?

It’s one of the biggest days of your life — A-level results day is here and those 3/4 letters you receive on a piece of paper can be life changing. The majority of students worry more about this day if they are relying on university places to be confirmed, meaning they are no longer conditional and are finally unconditional.  Not all students who study A-levels go on to university, and instead go into full time jobs, gap years or internships. 

Almost a year after you started to apply for your five university choices, it’s time to find out if you managed to achieve the grades to get in. Everyone has visions of what happens if you get the grades, you spend the day celebrating, preparing yourself for your big move, plan freshers week activities and start to speak to your course mates and flatmates.

But it’s not ‘happy days’ for everyone. There’s a large number of students who didn’t manage to reach the conditions of their university offer. You’ll probably know when you log into track and see if your place has been confirmed or not, as most sixth form’s and colleges don’t open until after UCAS Track opens in the morning.



But here is what could happen:

You miss the grades but still get into your firm choice

Every year there’s lots of students who log into track and find they’ve been accepted at their firm choice and think they had met their conditions, only to pick up their exam results to find out they missed their conditions of ABB by one mark, and receiving BBB or ABC. Depending on the popularity of the course and the way the university works, you can still get accepted.

Maybe your UCAS application stood out to the admissions officer, your personal statement blew them away or maybe they had some spaces free and they decided you were worth being accepted. Of course you might be a little down knowing you didn’t achieve the grades you set out to get, but you got into your firm choice still so you should be super happy and celebrate!

On results day for A-level students, it’s not usually the question of “what grades did you get?” instead, it’s “did you get into your firm choice?” so with that question, answer it with YES!

You should be extremely happy that you were still accepted and can carry on to prepare for your time at university and there’s no need to remove yourself from the Facebook groups. 

You’re offered a change of course 

A change of course offer on results day is a university’s way of saying that although you didn’t achieve the grades they were looking for, they are happy for you to study there but some changes to your application have been made. This can be:

1. Changing your course. By this, the university will make you an offer for a different course, maybe because the course you originally applied for was full up or some conditions required for it were not met by you, an example would be a joint honors in English and History where the conditions were to achieve ABB in English and History so if you get a C in History, you haven’t reached the condition, so they may offer you a changed course offer to an single honors English degree instead. 

2. Different start date. This would mean that the university are happy for you to study there and the course, but you would have to start a year later or a few months later. Either in January when courses can start or the next September than what you had stated. That can be good for students who are happy they can study where they want and what they want, and also gives them an option to get a job for a year or travel the world, however it can be a hard thing for students who really wanted to start university that year and now have the tough decision to decide whether to decline the offer or accept it and find something to do for a year. 

3. Different entry point. Most A-level students apply for courses that start in year 1, it’s very rare to start at year 2. But this usually applies to students who have chosen a course which their chosen university has an option for a foundation year before the official 3 or 4 year degree starts. This change of course offer would simply just mean that the university are happy for you to study there, but as you missed out on the grades you’d need to attend for an extra year to do a foundation year, if you pass this foundation year then you’re free to move to the official degree in the next year. 

You get into your insurance choice

When you first apply through UCAS, you’re given five choices, then you have the hard decision of narrowing down your offers to two, one being your firm choice and the other being your insurance choice.

For some, the insurance choice is just a back up as it usually asks for lower grades than your firm choice, for others it can be as equally loved as your firm. So on results day, if you see on your Track that you’re into your insurance choice and your firm has been unsuccessful, you have all rights to feel down as to many, your firm choice is your dream university and course.

But just think, your insurance choice must be good if it made its way to your second choice, you can always call up your firm choice and ask them if there’s any way you can get in, but remember if they declined you, it’s unlikely that they’ll take you back unless you have a good reason. Your insurance choice can be good, and a lot of people who go to their insurance choice love their time there.

Of course you have the problem of trying to find accommodation, but you might still be guaranteed university accommodation and if not, the university will help you to find somewhere.

You’re into clearing 

If you didn’t make the grades for either your firm choice or your insurance choice, you’ll be placed into clearing. Clearing is basically where all students who do not have a confirmed place are given access to search the UCAS website for a university which offers a course your interested in.

All of the universities and courses you’ll see will have spaces available so you may not see your firm and insurance choices on there. This works by calling up the university that you like the look of, they’ll ask you questions, see what A-level grades you have and if you both agree on an offer being made, this will be transferred onto UCAS where you can accept it.

The list of universities and courses on clearing will open around midnight on results day, so if you do have a feeling you missed the grades, it’s always good to start looking as soon as they’re up so you can get some numbers down ready to call as soon as you receive your results in the morning. 

If none of the above options work out, or if you decide university isn’t for you anymore, it’s not the end of the world and there’s lots of support out there. If your results aren’t what you expected and you find yourself in one of the above situations, speak to your teachers and family. 

What do you think? What other advice would you add? Have your say in the comments section below.