Failing is just another opportunity to learn

Rowenna Davis talks to students whose paths did not follow the course they had first planned


Mariam Baraki, 19, didn’t make the grades for the law course she wanted, but was determined to realise her dream of becoming a criminal law barrister. She enrolled with BPP, a private university in London, which doesn’t consider UCAS points when offering places. Now she’s on track to graduate before any of her friends.

“I found Clearing very daunting. I was given a few offers, but after an interview with BPP I decided that’s what I wanted. I’done my research and was impressed with their teaching style. If I’d known about BPP before Clearing, I might have applied there first.

I was glad that BPP doesn’t consider UCAS points, because universities offering such quality normally ask for extremely high grades. I had to have an interview and an assessment to get in, but I found it surprisingly easy. Because it’s a private university, there are higher fees, but you get free books included, so that saves you a lot.

The interaction with students is a lot better here than at other universities I saw on open days. If you ever have a problem, you can ask the tutor to stop and explain it then and there. They also put in place measures that mean you can work from anywhere – even another country. Personally, I go to classes and lectures because I think it’s better – the classes are small so you get a lot done.

The flexibility is good here, too. You can do the degree fast-track or slowly over six years, depending on your time commitments. I’m definitely going to try and do my degree in two years. But if I had a family problem or wanted a break or something, I know I could freeze it for a year and then pick up where I left off.

I would definitely say BPP was the right decision for me. A lot of my friends got accepted to do law by their first choices. To start with, they were a bit worried about talking to me about their courses, but, now they know what I’m doing, they’re quite jealous.”


Grant Oliver, 25, suffered from glandular fever while at school and failed to get the grades he needed to go to business school. After saving for two years, he booked a trip with Real Gap where he learned Thai boxing, jungle trekking and a lot about himself. He’s returned with a new outlook on life and different goals for his future.

“I wasn’t too chuffed with my results. I tried to go through Clearing, but with two Bs I didn’t have much choice. I knew I needed to get away, so I got a job wrapping sandwiches in cling film for money. It was depressing – I worked six days a week in a factory with no windows.

After a lot of research, I signed up for a two-month boxing course in Thailand with Real Gap. It’s mind-boggling how quickly your life changes over there. We had to wake up at 5am and do a 5km or 10km run as a warm-up, then bench work, weights and sparring before breakfast. After three days, my legs were in so much pain I wanted to quit and join my friends working in a nearby orphanage, but after it was over, I couldn’t believe how fit I was – I’m glad I did it.

After the course, I went to the islands and got some diving qualifications, then went on to Vietnam and Australia. The whole experience definitely taught me more about myself. Thai boxing taught me mental discipline, so did saving up for two years – it proved to me that, if you apply yourself to something, you can do it. It gave me the chance to get away and work out what I wanted to study. I can’t speak for everyone, but a lot of my mates who got into uni dropped out in the first year.

When I came back, I did an access course in maths at Stow College, Glasgow. I passed with merit a few months ago, and now I’m waiting to hear which university I get to go to in Glasgow.

I no longer want to go into business, so I’m applying for engineering. Money isn’t the point any more, I just want to be challenged. My plan now is to get my degree and go back to Australia and live there.”


When Kate Walker heard she had missed her grades, she took a year out and started volunteering for YouthNet, an organisation that provides advice and guidance to young people. She says her experience opened up a new career path, and gave her an edge over other graduates in the jobs market.

“I was on holiday when my teacher called to give me my results. She said I’d be disappointed and I was. I couldn’t even get into my back-up choice. I started looking at the Clearing sites, but none of the universities seemed right for me. Retakes seemed the best option, but that meant having a year off.

At the time, I felt I was falling behind, but during that year I got involved in all sorts of things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I discovered YouthNet, an online charity that allows young people who are out of work or education to talk to each other for advice. I volunteered as one of their ambassadors. They even gave me the opportunity to be their spokesperson at the House of Commons. I’ve really built on the connections I made that year. It introduced me to volunteering and I’ve done loads more since then.

It also meant I stood out. After university, I got an internship at the DKH Legacy Trust, because of my experience. So although it wasn’t ideal having to take a year off, in the end it gave me an edge.

Taking a year out also helped me financially. By the time I went to the University of Reading, I had saved about £5,000 from working weekends. It meant I wasn’t worrying about blowing all my money and I’ve got less debt too.

When I left university, I decided I wanted to work in PR for the third sector. I got back in touch with YouthNet, and they gave me some work experience doing just that. Now I’ve got a job as a digital marketing assistant for the Dogs Trust. It’s exactly the type of work I wanted.”


Matthew Sarstedt, 19, always knew he wanted to be a dentist. So, when he didn’t get the grades he needed to get into dentistry, he decided to resit his exams at Rochester Independent College in Kent. Now he’s got three As under his belt and is set to start his dream course at the University of Sheffield in September.

“I knew from an early age I wanted to be a dentist. When I was filling in my UCAS form, I didn’t even bother to put down an insurance choice in another subject. So when I didn’t get the grades I needed, I decided to stick to my guns. I wanted to prove I could do it and I didn’t want to accept second best.

I decided to turn to the private sector. I chose Rochester because I thought it was the nicest college, and it seemed very friendly. It had a boarding facility, which appealed to me. I wanted to go away because my friends had gone away – I would have had no life if I’d stayed at home [in Cheshire]. Going to Rochester gave me the chance to meet people in the same boat as me.

When you do resits, a lot of universities raise their entrance criteria, so I had to get AAA. To get that extra edge, I also took two more AS levels. If you are planning to resit, you have to go above and beyond, and give something extra. You’ve got to have the motivation. I thought I had worked and done my best the first time round, but you can always give more. In a way, it helps you prepare for university because you have to study more independently.

At first, I did feel left behind, but now I’ve come to realise it was the best thing. Taking one step sideways is better than taking one step back and doing a subject that’s not right for you.

I got the grades I needed, and now I’m going to Sheffield. That was initially my first choice, but the first time round I didn’t even get an interview because my module grades weren’t up to scratch. What have I learnt? If you know what you want, don’t just settle for second best.”

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