'I messed up; how can I make a fresh start? And would a degree be any use in the rag trade?'

A salvage operation

Q. I have completed two years of a degree, but in the final year, I was expelled after I forged a medical certificate. I was depressed, and have since had counselling. How can I salvage something from this mess and make a fresh start?

A. The best option would undoubtedly be to finish your degree now that you are so far down the road. Your counsellor might be able to provide the university with evidence that you have been suffering from acute stress, and they may reconsider on appeal, especially if you are able to demonstrate that you are on the road to recovery.

If the moment for appeal has passed, you could attempt to finish the degree at another institution, again by sending medical evidence to prove that you were not fit, but are now. Any other institution will ask your current university for references, so if you try to hide past events, it will be discovered.

You could also think about changing to a course where your previous modules will be taken into consideration. Probably the fastest way to complete a degree would be to opt for the Open University (or something similar, such as a University of London external degree). They will take previously gained modules into account.

But your CV shows that you have often been uncertain about which career direction to take. It might be worth considering giving both yourself and the studies a rest, and finding a job related to your future goal. That way, you could get a genuine feel for the profession you are seeking to enter, and when you apply to university again in the future, you will be able to demonstrate you know what you want and are working hard to achieve it, having overcome the difficulties in your past.

Passion for fashion

Q. I am 18, and have applied to university to study a degree in fashion buying. But I am confused, because I am not sure that going to university will benefit me.

A. There are fewer than 20 degrees in the UK covering the retail side of fashion. Any will give an excellent grounding in the commercial and practical aspects of bringing designs from the drawing board to the consumer. What they can't do is guarantee a job: that is down to individuals and opportunities. Students who have studied these disciplines might have an edge, especially as several retail chains prefer would-be buyers to have a qualification in fashion and/or business studies. Still, graduates in other subjects can and do go into buying and related areas. It helps to have some retail experience, either through a placement or as a part-time sales assistant.

If you are uncertain whether you want to specialise in buying at this early stage, you can pick another degree via the Ucas Extra scheme or in summer Clearing in August, or stick with this one, knowing that it will give you skills that are transferable to other areas of fashion and retail. If you're unsure about the nature of the job, find out more on www.prospects.ac.uk/links/occupations.

Many companies do recruit A-level candidates and the most talented can move on at the same pace as graduates. The retail trade has a tradition of promoting from within; look at store websites for training schemes or opportunities.

Careers advisers: Anne-Marie Martin, director, the Careers Group, University of London; Gillian Sharp, Graduate Prospects adviser.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2143; or email chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk