Don't worry if you haven't got the grades you were hoping for, says Tom Crookston

'I missed the deadline and phoned the hotline'

Laura Thorne, 23, was managing the bar and entertainments at Thames Valley University before the age of 20. While there she was encouraged to start studying and has just become one of the first students in the country to earn a degree in event management.

When I finished my A-levels I hadn't really considered Higher Education at all. We lived in the countryside and no-one in my family had ever been to university so it hadn't really occurred to me as an option. My grades weren't great anyway and I really felt like I wanted a change of scene so I moved out of home in Dorset to London, where my boyfriend at the time was studying. I took a job in the bar at TVU and within a couple of years I had been promoted to manager, organising all the entertainments as well. I was spending a lot of time talking to the careers advisers there, and they told me about a new degree course called event management. Thames Valley was one of the first in the country to offer the course and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a qualification that would help with what I really wanted to do. I had missed the deadline to apply through UCAS though, but I phoned up the Clearing hotline and was lucky enough to get a place. I graduated a couple of months ago and have already done loads of work with unsigned bands and live music, including stuff for Xfm and MTV.

'The whole process took no more than a week'

Tyrone Bennett, 22, was given a conditional offer by Cambridge University, but when his grades fell short of what was required he decided to apply elsewhere rather than re-sit his exams. He graduated last year from De Montfort University, where he now works as a customer adviser.

I had a conditional offer from Cambridge to study History & Educational Studies but I didn't get the grades I needed. They suggested that I could re-sit a couple of exams and re-apply, but I decided that I wanted to move on. A tutor at college was helping me look through the newspapers' Clearing supplements for the same course at other universities and also recommended that I call the Radio One Clearing hotline. I told them my grades and what I wanted to study, and they came up with a list of courses for me, with De Montfort at the top. A few days later I went to have a look around the campus and finalise my application - in the end the whole process took no more than a week. I didn't really know what to expect as I'd never even visited Leicester before, but the campus and the staff are great, and the course was really hands-on and engaging. At the end of my first year I applied for a job working as a Student Ambassador at DMU and when I graduated I was offered a full-time job as a Customer Adviser there. A big part of my job now is helping A-level students on the university's own Clearing hotline!

'I found a great course in a great place'

Natasha Payne, 19, knew she wanted to study product design, but failed to get the grades for her first choice course at Nottingham University. She was accepted through clearing into Nottingham Trent and is sure she made the right choice.

By the time results day came around I knew I wasn't going to get the grades I needed - I was predicted AAB - but I didn't expect to do as badly as I did. I definitely could have worked harder. I considered re-sitting my exams, but I didn't really want to spend another year working before Uni. I looked through the list of Clearing courses in the paper with my mum, and phoned Nottingham Trent who said they would call back later that day. I had already been offered a place to take product design at another university, but I've got family in Nottingham and I was really keen to go there so I waited. When I eventually spoke to them that evening they accepted me for the course I wanted and I haven't looked back since. Nottingham's a great place to live and Trent is right in the city centre. The course is fantastic, there's loads to do in town and it's great for shopping! My advice on clearing would be: "Go for it." I didn't think I would get in anywhere, but I found a great course in a great place. It definitely turned out for the best.

'My advice would be: don't give up'

John Henden, 22, knew before he got his results that he wouldn't have the necessary grades for the Architecture course at Manchester University. So he called and spoke to his admissions tutor, who arranged for a new offer based on UCAS points, which allowed him to make the most of both his AS and A2 marks.

I was never really that academically minded at school: my favourite subjects were always Design Technology and Art. But I'm fascinated by design and love the technical side of architecture. I had an interview at Manchester and they gave me a conditional offer. Unfortunately, by the time I got near to A-level results I knew I wasn't going to get the grades they wanted. I spoke to the admissions people there, who were really helpful and made me a new offer based on UCAS points, which suited me because I had taken more AS levels than A2. Maths isn't my strong point though, so when I got my results and had to calculate whether or not I had enough points I was incredibly nervous. I made it though and I haven't looked back. Manchester has one of the top architecture courses in the country and having recently graduated I'm just about to start the second part of the degree, with a work placement at a top local practice. My advice would be: don't give up.