Time to be decisive

UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE COURSES Grades disappointing? Don't panic. Karen Gold explains how to size up your options

"I think people are going to have to be quick off the blocks. They should be on the phone the day A-level results come out. While people shouldn't panic and take the first thing they're offered, it might not be wise to gather a sheaf of offers for 10 days before deciding which one to take."

So says Steven Kendall, head of admissions at Luton University. For anyone who had disappointing A-level results on Thursday this can seem a conundrum. Do rush - but do not rush into anything!

The solution is to have clear priorities. Priority No 1: Will your first choice or backup choice of course still take you? Ring and find out. They may say "yes". More likely you will be asked to wait a few days. Do not hang around: start making your back-up plan, even though you may never have to use it.

Priority No 2: Decide what other courses you would enjoy instead. That might take you minutes, if you already had a back-up plan. But it might take several days of seeking advice. Take that time: the way you spend the next three years depends on it.

Priority No 3: Decide where you would like to go. A campus? A city? Near home? Far away? Don't make a snap decision.

Priority No 4: Swing into action. Official Ucas course vacancies are not published until Wednesday. (See below for details of vacancy information and helplines.) But if you expect or know your first and insurance choices have rejected you, and you have done your planning, you do not need to wait.

"We are expecting to fill some courses in the first three or four days," said Michael Brown of De Montfort University in Leicester. "If it looks clear that people aren't going to get into their first choice and they really want to come to us, then we will pencil them in. We can't commit to it formally, but we will keep a place open temporarily until they know for certain."

Having covered the first three priorities, what action should you take, and how quickly? It depends on where you want to go, and what you want to study. "Basically, the more popular the course, the more prestigious the institution, the more scarce the places are going to be," Mr Kendall said.

Therefore anyone with less than perfect grades needs a range of options. Start with the course you originally wanted, and the university or college where you wanted to do it. Will you change course, or location?

If you still want your original subject, use the Ucas handbook, prospectuses and guidance services to find other universities that might take you with lower grades. If you still want your original university, look through its prospectus to find other courses you would enjoy. Here you are a strong candidate: admissions tutors can look up your details and you can press your case.

Neither of these approaches may work. In that case, if you are determined to be a student next month, you need to be flexible. Which universities are similar to your chosen one? Did anyone make you a conditional offer that you refused? Can you go back to this option?

What courses resemble the ones you first chose? A quite minor change in title and content can make the difference between vacant and full. Biomedical science with business at De Montfort is full, for example, but biomedical science with chemistry has places. Architecture is full, architecture and urban studies has vacancies. Combined studies and modular degrees almost anywhere will have places, if you are prepared to study a mix of subjects as well as your preferred one.

Around 44,000 people found places through clearing last year: one in six of all new students. In mid-September last year, some tutors, admittedly mostly in science and engineering, were even ringing up schools asking if they had any sixth-formers wanting places!

Plan your approach, be persistent on the phone, take time to decide, but do not sit around.

Lucia's second choice: theatre studies in Ulster

Lucia Favarin, 21, Hampshire.

A-levels: Chemistry (U), English (E), Theatre Studies (D).

Initial plan: Drama school.

Now: Ulster University, BA Theatre Studies.

"I got accepted by drama school twice, but Hampshire turned me down for a grant both times, so I couldn't go. The second time it happened I thought I'd better try something else, so I applied for English and theatre arts courses through clearing.

"I could have gone to Sheffield, but I wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere I had never been before. I'd never been to Ireland, and at the time I applied it was before the peace, and people were saying: "You must be out of your mind." But I'd worked for six months in Israel on a kibbutz, so I wasn't that worried about it.

"The scariest thing was finding accommodation. There weren't any places left on campus, so I had to phone around and some people did seem a bit hostile. I don't know if it was the accent. But I found a house with six others on different courses, and it's worked really well.

"I can't say the peace has really made a big difference that I would notice, though when it happened I was very pleased. I was warned before I came over not to get into political or religious discussions, and when I arrived I really felt I stood out. But most people will talk to you, they're very friendly.

"Going through clearing was quite difficult. My A-levels were disappointing, but I'd say I got what I deserved, because I didn't work that hard. I was ringing round for about two or three weeks. You are at your wits' end trying to get them to answer the phone. You get through to different people and they haven't got the right answers and they want you to speak to someone who isn't there. But I thought something must come up.

"One of the tutors warned me that the course was going to be very academic compared with drama school. I think that was so I knew what I was in for, and because he was looking at my A-levels. But it's a lot more practical and easier than I imagined. I still want to act, but I'm glad I went to university now, because I'm really enjoying it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test