YOUR FUTURE: Routes to success

Whichever path you take to get to university or college, the rewards are definitely worth being persistent and looking at all your options
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If you get the grades you needed, you are about to start the journey of a lifetime. You are all set for a brilliant time as a student, with the opportunity to meet more new friends than you will ever have before. Some of them will be with you for life. You'll be studying a subject you really enjoy and you will get a head start financially in your career by having a degree or higher diploma behind you. Every salary survey confirms that graduates fare much better throughout their careers than people who have not been through higher education.

If you get the grades you needed, you are about to start the journey of a lifetime. You are all set for a brilliant time as a student, with the opportunity to meet more new friends than you will ever have before. Some of them will be with you for life. You'll be studying a subject you really enjoy and you will get a head start financially in your career by having a degree or higher diploma behind you. Every salary survey confirms that graduates fare much better throughout their careers than people who have not been through higher education.

All you have to do now is the paperwork. When you get the official offer from UCAS, confirm that you want the place. Then wait for administrative packages to arrive from your university or college with details of enrolment procedures and accommodation, reading lists and so on. Don't forget to fill in the final forms for your LEA or Education and Library Board. They need to know whether you will be going to your firm or insurance choice institution.

You could also start to think about organising all the things you will need to take with you if you are going away from home. Whether you you leave home or not, you will need an inexhaustible supply of passport photographs for various ID cards!

Ah, but what if you don't get the results you hope for? You can make the same journey. It will take a little longer to organise, that's all. It may seem like the end of the world, but it won't be. The UCAS Clearing system was set up to help students in this situation and has helped thousands every year. Wendy Lowth ( see case study, right) had to make a new decision exactly a year ago. She is now extremely happy on her course and cannot imagine being anywhere else.

In the article taking you step by step through Clearing on pages 26 and 27, you can find three more stories of students who were in despair when they got their results but found a happy ending. Robin Heason says: "What made it worse was everybody asking 'what did you get?' and most of my friends going off to celebrate." Robin flourished at university, set up three student societies, was a student union officer for 18 months and spent a year in the USA as part of his degree.

If Clearing doesn't produce the goods – not everyone can get a place on the course of their dreams with the grades they have – there are some alternatives. One is resits. This is often a student's first reaction: "I'll have another go and do better next year." This can often be better than accepting second best this year.

Russell Shone also features in the Clearing article and has experience of both options. He enrolled on a course he had found through Clearing, found it not right, left, retook his A-levels, still didn't get quite the right grades – and found a place through Clearing for the second time. He is now on the perfect course.

A word of warning about the resit option: do ask advice from the staff who taught you. If they genuinely think that you have reached your academic ceiling, it could be unwise to put yourself through another whole year's A2 work. Another alternative is to reapply for next year on a less demanding (in terms of entry grades) course and take a gap year. In that year you can do all sorts of things – from voluntary work as done by Prince William to learning a new skill, such as a language, to taking a job and saving some cash towards your higher education expenses.

Whatever you decide – do talk all the options through with someone who can stand back and give impartial advice.

Good luck!

CASE STUDY: Wendy Lowth

Wendy Lowth, 19, first year of a law degree at Southampton Institute. She has A-levels in classical civilisations (B), law (C), English literature (E), general studies (B) from Barton Peveril sixth-form College, Eastleigh, Hants

This time last year I thought my life was over! I needed AAB grades to study law and I'd worked so hard for two years that I thought I would have no problem.

Mum took me to college and waited in the car. My friends and I all got our envelopes and went outside. Suddenly they were all screaming because they had what they needed; I was in a heap – in total shock. Mum said all the right things: I'd done my best and there would be a place somewhere.

I rang my firm choice university. They said I was still under consideration and would have to wait until Monday. I didn't want to do that. I saw Southampton Institute on the vacancy list and phoned there next. I got a really helpful person on the hotline who told me she was a student herself. She said my grades were fine and I would be offered a place, but it couldn't be confirmed until I had my CEF. I was worried in case places went in the meantime, but she told me there were enough places for people with my grades and she advised me to relax. That made me feel better instantly.

I had to wait about 10 days for my CEF. I rang back and was invited to visit the next day. I knew at once I could be happy here: people were friendly, the facilities were brilliant and most of the buildings new and well equipped.

This August I shall be working on the Clearing hotline. If you ring and get me, I shall understand exactly how you're feeling!" Wendy's advice – be proactive. Get moving!

WHERE TO GET INFORMATION

UCAS
From Thursday 15 August until Friday 13 September, the UCAS website, www.ucas.com, will hold all the information you will need on Clearing procedures. You will be able to make an interactive course search. The site will be updated daily.

The media
You can also find lists of vacant places in The Independent and The Independent on Sunday between 15 and 23 August.

Teachers
Subject teachers, heads of sixth form, etc. can advise you on realistic chances of improving grades through resits or on a change of subject. Advisers from careers companies and Connexions can advise on all the options, including employment.

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