Adjustment case study: 'Go to the best place you can'

When Ruth King got better than expected grades, she went through Adjustment to make the most of them

Ruth King is currently in the second year of a Masters in computer science at the University of Warwick. A single phone call landed her a place through Adjustment, but her story began much earlier in an academic career that had already prepared her to adapt to changing circumstances.

"Originally I wanted to do archaeology and applied to universities that were good for that," she explains. Halfway through her first year of A‑levels, though, she realised it wasn't the path for her. "Partly it was to do with job prospects. In archaeology a lot of digs use volunteers rather than paying graduates; so I thought I'd just pursue it as a hobby instead."

Deciding that computer science (a subject she already enjoyed) would offer her more opportunities, King switched a few A-levels around. In the end, she completed three years of college and came out with AS levels in biology and chemistry, plus A-levels in archaeology, history, maths, further maths and computing. "I had to do that because I changed direction," she says. "I only had two A-levels by the end of the second year and I needed to complete the new ones to make me eligible for computer science. It was challenging at first, but once I caught up on maths it was fine."

She also needed to contact the universities she already had offers from to see if she could change courses. Her original first choice for archaeology allowed her to swap, with a lower offer of ABB for the computer science course than the one she already held for archaeology. When King finished her second year of A-Levels with two A grades, she knew she was in a strong position. "I was prepared to do Adjustment: all I needed was one B to get into my first choice and I thought I'd get at least one A, so it was on my mind coming up to results day," she says. She also had the option of taking a year out and reapplying, but after three years of college and with a four-year Masters course in mind, entering clearing was her preferred option. "I wouldn't graduate for ages if I took another year out." Although she was fairly confident, getting her final grades (two A* and one A) in her third year was still a good moment. "I was pretty happy when I got those results!" she admits.

Being prepared for the possibility of Adjustment may have given her a slight head start, but King still had to go through the same process on results day as everyone else. She took a methodical approach. "I rang universities straight away. I got the league tables for computer science and started working my way down the list from the top, excluding Oxbridge. I just wanted to go to the best university that would take me."

Scottish universities were also skipped over because, as a South Coast resident, King felt the distance was too great. Being fast out of the blocks helped: after only three phone calls, she was offered a place at the University of Warwick. She knew a little about the institution already, since her sister had studied there, but she still took some time to make her decision. "They said they'd let me think about whether or not to accept. I did take some time to think, but I was pretty certain I was going to accept it." Taking advice from family and friends, plus the experience of her sister's partner – "he did the same course that I'm now following and has a good job, so I thought it's probably a good degree" – she fairly swiftly decided to head for the Midlands.

However, it wasn't all plain sailing from then on. Several accommodation hurdles had to be cleared first. Delays to building work meant that the campus accommodation wasn't an option, so instead King and other students in her position were put up by the university for a week before the start of term while they found rented accommodation for themselves.

"I ended up sharing a house with some second years," says King, "so I didn't get the experience of being in halls in my first year, which was sad." However, all wasn't lost. "The week ahead of term they'd given us meant that I got to know some other first years – so I knew other people off campus and went to their houses most of the time."

Now she's living with others in her year group, she feels more comfortable. "All the students and lecturers are friendly and I'm living with my friends, so it's a lot better!"

According to King, the accommodation issues and the short timescale involved in Adjustment were the only downsides to the process, but neither really affected her in the long term. For those faced with the option of Adjustment on results day, she recommends thinking ahead to the kind of university and course you might enjoy, and then looking for the best institution that fits those preferences. "The whole point of university is the degree, isn't it? So it's good to get the best one possible, and go to the best university that will take you."

Being organised is crucial, too. "If you think you've done well it's something worth thinking about. You need to be organised, because otherwise the places might have gone by the time you get around to contacting universities. I'm very glad I just got on with it!"

In fact, anyone who finds themselves in a similar position should consider getting on the phone, according to a spokesman for the University of Warwick admissions office. "Leading universities usually have considerably fewer courses available in Clearing, but the Adjustment process means that it really is still worth your while calling universities if you achieve better than expected grades."

It was certainly a phone call worth making for King. "It's definitely been a positive experience. I'm going to get a better degree, and I'm really glad that I've had the opportunity to go to a better university. I'm really enjoying the course – it's a lot of work, but I'm enjoying it!"