Clearing guide: Get the most out of your results

When your grades are not what you expected, talk through your options with a professional for advice on what to do next

For many students A-level results day is tense, to say the least. It's the day when plans for the future are secured. For others, it's the day they're thrown into the air, either by exceeding or by missing the grades they were aiming for.

The lucky few who find they have done better than expected can explore "Adjustment" – a process by which Ucas applicants can shop around for alternative courses with the security of their firm offer in place.

For the far larger group of students who miss their required grades, help – not to mention a host of potentially exciting options – is at hand.

"Don't panic," says Bob Walker, a careers adviser who's been working on the free, impartial Exam Results Helpline for the past decade. "Talk to professionals," he advises. While family and friends can offer support, professional careers advisers – on the helpline, at Connexions or through a local careers advice service – can talk students through a range of courses and ideas without bias or agenda. For students who choose to go through Clearing – a system that matches Ucas applicants with remaining available courses at UK universities and colleges – these advisers can also pass on the most up-to-date information about vacancies.

These conversations are personal. "When callers get through, they get a person, not an automated voice," explains Walker. "They get a knowledgeable listening ear."

That personal touch extends to the care offered by the helpline. Walker remembers a very distressed caller last year, who had missed his conditional offer to go to university. After a few minutes, the phone went dead. "I lost him. But I managed to find his phone number and I called him back," Walker says, with genuine concern. He spent a lot of time over the following three days calming that caller down, talking through his options and, ultimately, helping him find a suitable alternative. "We got him fixed up at another university in a related subject."

In this case, Clearing was the right solution. In countless others, it may be a foundation degree, a higher national diploma (HND), an apprenticeship, a gap year, retakes, a professional training scheme or another option. While the Exam Results Helpline is run by Ucas, it is done so on the behalf of the Department for Education, and so offers impartial advice on different routes. "We carefully build up a picture of what each caller wants, what they need and where they're hoping to get to," says Walker.

According to Mark Dawe, managing director of OCR, a UK awarding body that specialises in vocational qualifications, that sense of direction is key. "We're entering an era where students that have done their A-levels or any other Level 3 qualification need to think about where they want to end up," Dawe says. "The old idea of getting through university and then thinking about what to do next has gone. Employers are increasingly saying we wouldn't mind having you work with us for three years, earning money while we support you in your studies." He cites higher level apprenticeships in management consultancy and in tax as examples. He also says: "Until recently, if you wanted to be an accountant, for example, you'd go to university and then join an accountancy firm. Now, those same accountancy firms are offering the opportunity to work for them with a Level 3 qualification and do a higher level course. Different employers are starting to offer different routes."

Like Walker, Dawe wouldn't say that any of these routes are better. "There are options," he says, "and, for many employers, a number are as good as each other."

Students who miss their conditional offer today would do well to keep an open mind. "If you were thinking of doing a degree to get into a particular field of work, check what qualifications that field is asking for. You might find there are options you hadn't considered before." Some may have lower requirements, and most would save you thousands of pounds in graduate debt.

The British businessman, entrepreneur and 'Twitter Dragon' Simon Dolan feels these work-based routes have great value. "While you might have lofty ambitions of going in on some high paid, fast track route, the likelihood is you will start at the bottom. And that is a good thing – embrace it, because you have a great opportunity to learn as much as you possibly can about the place you work in, introduce yourself, find out how things work and who does what. It might be that you luck out and find yourself in a great company with great prospects and you gradually work your way up the ladder," Dolan says.

Another alternative is to take time out to properly consider all your options. According to Sam Cox, managing director at Real Gap, engaging in a well-structured placement while travelling can have real benefits. "If you want to get into a certain profession – such as marketing or medicine – there are gap projects that can give you a taster. The experience of your gap year can help mould what you end up doing for your career and allows you to stand out from the crowd when applying for university or a job."

Her company sees increased interest immediately after A-level results day. "People realise that, if they don't get into university, a gap project can be a great alternative, because it gives life experience, it can give work experience, and it's a chance to clear your head and think about what you want to do next. We surveyed 500 businesses last year, and it seems employers want more life and work experience on CVs," she adds.

Real Gap launched a new internship range of gap projects this year, including journalism in India, marketing in Argentina, medical placements in Namibia and many others, including engineering and architecture.

With higher university fees from September 2012, and high graduate unemployment, alternative routes may be increasingly attractive. Those with their heart set on university, meanwhile, needn't think their opportunity stops with a missed conditional offer. As Walker stresses: "There is always plan B, a plan C and an even plan D."

The Exam Results Helpline (0808 100 8000), is open until 25 August and supports students who receive higher or lower grades than expected.

Help at your fingertips: Apps to make your next steps a little easier

Flashcards+

Designed in association with Harvard University faculty and students, this app enables you to create and study from flashcards, or search through a database to see if any match your course.

Kindle

Allows users to read Kindle books, newspapers, magazines and pdfs on an easy-to-use interface.

Off Exploring

Create an online travel blog by uploading photos from your adventures, geo-tagging posts and writing notes to sync whenever you have internet connection.

XE Currency

An on-the-go currency converter that helps travellers to manage their money and stick to their gap year budget.

All the Top Bananas

With links to around 180,000 jobs currently being advertised in the UK, this app allows you to search for jobs and shortlist vacancies while you're out and about.

Job Search Coach

Career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman offers advice on how to find your perfect job, with career coaching techniques.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Long Term Primary Teacher - Stockport - Start ASAP

£90 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Manchester Primary: Experienced Primary...

Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Science Teacher - South Es...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering