The future starts here

Whether your grades are good or bad, exam results time means making the most of your potential. And whatever happens - don't panic!
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The Independent Online

You will probably remember the day you open the results that decide which university or college you go to for the rest of your life. If the results are good your memories will be golden, if they are bad it's probably the shock that will stay with you.

You will probably remember the day you open the results that decide which university or college you go to for the rest of your life. If the results are good your memories will be golden, if they are bad it's probably the shock that will stay with you.

But whatever those results are, your future starts now. If you've got the right grades to get onto the course and institution of your choice, then congratulations. If you haven't, it's not all over until the fat lady sings. Keep your head and act quickly and sensibly and you can organise yourself another good place at university or college within no time. If you need any proof - read on the opposite page about what happened to Prue Moseley this time last year

Whatever the results, you mustn't let the grass grow under your feet. If you have got the grades you need for the place you have been offered, the first thing you must do is confirm that place when you get your official offer through from UCAS. The next thing that will happen is that your university or college of higher education will send you a pack of starting information covering areas like enrolment procedures, accommodation and reading lists for your course.

You also need to fill in the last forms for your local education authority or education and library board, depending on where you live in the UK. They need to know whether you are going to your firm or insurance choice institution.

If you haven't got the grades to meet the conditions of your firm choice institution, the first thing you must do is check with the university or college to see if they will still take you - sometimes they will if you are not far off the offer. If they won't then you may have met the conditions for your insurance choice. If you find that neither are able to take you, your next step should be Clearing if you still want to go into higher education this year.

Clearing is a UCAS service which helps people without a university or college place to find vacancies on degree courses starting in September.

Don't imagine that all the courses on offer will be the left-over ones that nobody wanted. Lots of people miss their grades and so their places go back into the pot. You might need to be a bit flexible about where you study and exactly what you study but you will find a place. See pages 26 and 27 for details about how to go into Clearing.

If you are downhearted about not getting the grades and thinking like Greg Chiswell did (see his story on the opposite page) that you are not going to bother going to university or college after all, think again. Higher education opens doors like nothing else. In strictly financial terms, the average graduate can expect to earn something like £400,000 more over a life-time than a non-graduate. The graduate is also far less likely to be unemployed or, if they do get made redundant, to be out of work as long as a non-graduate.

But it's not just the money and wide career choices that having a degree brings you. It gives you the chance of studying something that you really like in depth at a time in your life when, hopefully, you are not bogged down by financial responsibilities to other people. It's much harder to do a degree when you have a mortgage and or children - ask anyone who has done it.

It also allows you to meet people who may change your views or your life and who may remain your friends. It widens your horizons and gives you the chance to test out your views and hear those of others and to try a whole range of experiences (hopefully legal) that you may not have had the chance to try if you had gone straight to work from school.

If you don't want to go into Clearing, there are other possibilities. If for example, you don't think your grades truly reflect your potential, then you can retake your exams. But do take advice from your own school or college teachers. They will know whether some better quality revision would have paid dividends in better grades.

You could also consider applying to do alternative qualifications which generally ask for lower entry grades. HNDs (Higher National Diplomas) and Foundation Degrees are two-year courses that can be topped up with further study to degree level. If you want advice on retakes or alternative qualifications, there is some later in the magazine.

Perhaps you feel you would be better off taking a year out and then re-applying. Gap years can be a good idea if they are well organised and allow you to learn some skills and something about yourself. Some university and college admissions tutors positively welcome people who have taken gap years because they find them more mature and ready to study after the break. Be careful though - not all do. If you think you will re-apply for a particular place and course, check first that they are happy to consider people who have taken gap years.

If you do decide to go to work, do make sure you choose a job that gives you training and career opportunities - don't waste all that hard work getting your school qualifications by disappearing into a dead-end job. And don't rule out returning to higher education at a later stage. Half of all students starting at university or higher education college now are over 21 - you will not be alone.

Whatever your next move - good luck and get the most out of it.

'GET ON THE PHONE AND GET SORTED'

Last year, Prue Moseley (18), from Essex, found she had missed the grades for the place she'd been offered at St George's Hospital, London. She went into Clearing and is now studying physiotherapy at the University of East London

It takes a while for it to sink in. You open the envelope and you stare at the results before you read them. I was at a very academic girls' school and everyone around me seemed to have five As and were screaming with delight. I'd got a B for geography, a C for biology and a D for chemistry. St George's had asked for BBC. My teachers were fantastic. They told me to ring St George's straight away to see if they would still take me. They wouldn't. I felt crushed - that was when I cried.

It was not a complete shock although there had been a little part of me which had thought I would get the grades and you lull yourself into a false sense of security. I'd been quite excited on that morning. It was a nice day, really sunny, and I got there early and was one of the first to get my results.

My teachers got me to check the UCAS website to see who else had places for physiotherapy - there were only three. I tried all of them and the people I spoke to were really nice, but said they couldn't offer me a place over the phone before Clearing started the next day. But they gave me a mini-interview over the phone - I wasn't prepared for it at all but for me that was better; it was sink or swim without time to think about it over night and get worried. UEL rang me back the next day on my 18th birthday and offered me a place. My course is very practical and the staff are fantastic and I'm really happy here. So don't panic if the same thing happens to you. Just get on the phone and get sorted.

'IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD'

For Greg Chiswell (20), from Cheshire, it was second time lucky last year. Having failed to get into Bangor University the previous summer to study ocean sciences, he retook his A-levels and was finally accepted by Bangor

I was totally gutted by my first set of results - I got Cs in chemistry and physics, which was OK, but my maths was unclassified. I'd had a gut feeling I had not done well, but I didn't realise I had failed catastrophically.

My friends all got the grades they needed and I was really happy for them. I put a brave face on it, but I was upset and I wasn't sure I was going to carry on. School were fantastic and supportive. I sat down with my careers adviser to talk about my options and I decided to come back and repeat my maths and do an AS in biology. I was very apprehensive about having to go back to school to study with younger boys after lording it over them for the previous six or seven years but I fitted in. I made some new friends and I kept in touch with my old ones. If my second set of results hadn't been good though, I couldn't have faced doing it all again - I'd have been too old to be at school.

But this time I got a B in maths! I couldn't believe I'd done so well to move up to a B in a year. It was such a relief. I am so happy here at Bangor. I love sailing and the Irish Sea is right in front of you. You can walk down to the end of the pier and look out to sea and when you turn round you are looking at Snowdonia. It's safe and it's clean - it's great. If you don't get the grades you need, it's not the end of the world. If you know you can do better, then go back and do the year again. You get even more of a sense of achievement from doing it the second time round. You appreciate it a lot more.

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