Three ways to secure your university future after A-level disappointment

Lucy Tobin
The clearing hotline is a good chance to find out more about a course you could be spending three or more years on. Photograph: Getty Images


If you’re staring at worse-than-expected A-level results, and you’ve missed out on your uni offer, you may feel confused about what to do next – as well as disappointed.

The first thing to do is call up your university to check if they’ll still let you in. If not, talk to your teachers. If you just missed a grade by a few marks, they may say it’s worth requesting a re-mark (now called a “review”).

If your exams results are too low for a specific course you really want to be on, resits might be a the better option. They can be expensive – registration fees and possible tuition costs mount up – and demand a lot of time, self-discipline and motivation. Check, too, that exam retakes will be accepted for the course you have your heart set on.

The third option is clearing – the matchmaking hotline that pairs students looking for a course with unis that have places available. Here we speak to students who took each of these paths.

‘I went through clearing’
Devan Nayar, 23, just graduated with a degree in economics from Swansea University.

I needed ABB for my top choice degree, economics at Liverpool, but on results day found out I’d got ABCD. Although my family were disappointed – and I’d attended a grammar school where As were the expectation - I’d known my exams hadn’t gone well.

I wasn’t a fan of doing another year of A-levels, so I went into clearing. It was a pretty hectic day. I got an offer for business economics from Liverpool that I wasn’t sure about – and when I rang back 30 minutes later to accept, the course had been filled.

After three days of me phoning unis, my dad spotted an economics course at Swansea in clearing. I called up and got an offer. It wasn’t the ideal start, but now I see clearing put me in the best situation in my life to date. I had an amazing time there, got a first, and start a graduate job with Lloyds Banking Group in September.


Clearing is part of the Ucas admissions process matching students with unfilled places at universities and colleges.


‘I requested a re-mark’
Scarlett Murray, 18, needed all As to secure a place on her dream course – English literature at the University of Bristol - but got a B in English literature.

I was completely shocked by my B – I’d got an A* in the mock exam, and had worked extremely hard. I knew all the set texts almost religiously. I hadn’t had a sense of anything going wrong in the exam.

My immediate thought was that I was not good enough at English to study it at university. But my English teacher encouraged me to get a re-mark– he said he never thought we would be having this conversation.

The day my new grade came through was my birthday, 23 August. My English teacher phoned me and I screamed for joy; it was an A*. To anyone else in my situation, I’d say, if you have any doubt at all about your mark, get it re-marked. This is not the time to be modest about your own aptitude. I’m now really enjoying English at Bristol.

‘I opted for more exams’
Before the start of year 12, Cynthia Royer, now 20, didn’t know what to study at A-level.

“I knew I really wanted to go to uni, but that was it,” says Royer. “I didn’t know what to study and my school barely had any information about applications.” So she opted for courses she’d enjoyed at GCSE: English literature and language and geography A-levels, plus a music BTec. “I quickly realised GCSEs were very different to the pressure of A-levels. I failed my exams and was so upset – I thought it was the end of my dream – but then I started Googling entry requirements and found that Sussex, which looked fantastic, accepted BTecs.”

Cynthia’s teachers supported her plan to take IT and business BTecs in one year, rather than the usual two. “I was really in a hurry. I worked so hard, got my place on accountancy and finance at Sussex, and even got a scholarship.

“It was a long journey but I’m here now - I love being in Brighton. To others who failed exams, I’d say think about what your end goal is, and work out the best way to get there. There might be another way to get into uni. Don’t give up.”