The next step

The conveyor belt of university or college application stops for no one. Whether your results are good or bad, make sure you know what to do next. By Wendy Berliner
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The Independent Online

Suddenly it's real. After all those examinations and hard work deciding what you want to study and where, you have your results and you know which way you are going. So what happens next? You either have the grades you need to get onto the course you want, or you haven't. Either way you have some organising to do and the sooner you get on with it the better for your future.

Suddenly it's real. After all those examinations and hard work deciding what you want to study and where, you have your results and you know which way you are going. So what happens next? You either have the grades you need to get onto the course you want, or you haven't. Either way you have some organising to do and the sooner you get on with it the better for your future.

If you have met the grades you have been asked for, it's very straightforward. UCAS will send you a letter which will contain your official offer and all you have to do is to confirm you are accepting it.

If you no longer want the place, you need to say so now. Be warned, if you are rejecting the place because you have better grades and would like to look for a course that needs them, you cannot go into Clearing this year. You must re-apply next year.

If you are accepting your place, the next thing that will happen is that your university or college of acceptance will send you an information pack which will cover the essentials like enrolment procedures, accommodation and reading lists for your course.

You'll also need to sort out the final stages of your applications for a student loan or bursaries - if you qualify for them - and help with tuition fees. You do this by completing forms from your local education authority, Student Award Agency for Scotland or education and library board, depending on where you live in the UK.

If you didn't get the right grades, the first thing to do is to contact the university or college you had chosen and check whether they will still accept you. Some will accept you if you have slipped a grade. It may be, for example, that the subject you dropped the grade in might have had a particularly difficult exam section this year and lots of people have been marked down. Or your personal statement may have been particularly impressive.

Hard as this sounds, try to be prepared for rejection because lots of the more popular universities or colleges will have no choice but to turn you down because of the pressure on places. It won't be personal, just practical.

If you have an insurance offer which you have met, you still have a place. If you have not met the terms of the insurance, again you need to contact the institution to see whether you could still go.

If your insurance won't accept you either, your next step is Clearing. The first thing to say about Clearing is what it isn't. It isn't a market place for all the courses people didn't want. Courses at very prestigious universities with high entry requirements will be on offer along side courses from less well known institutions with much lower entry requirements, and lots between the two. What has happened to you has happened to other people, so the widest range of courses will have come back onto the market because people have missed their grades.

If you qualify for Clearing, you will automatically be sent a Clearing Entry Form (CEF) which is your passport through Clearing. Course vacancies are listed in The Independent and on the UCAS website ( www.ucas.com) and you need to make a list of the ones that appeal to you. Take advice from your teacher or careers adviser before you start hitting the phones. They will be on hand, ready and willing to help you through this.

When you ring universities or colleges to ask about courses, keep your CEF and a copy of your personal statement to hand because you will almost certainly be asked for details about them. Also be prepared to have a mini-interview over the phone about why you want to do this course at that place.

If you are prepared to be a bit flexible about what you want to study and where, you will find a place. For example, joint honours courses, where you study more than one subject, often have lower entry qualifications. Or you could take a diploma course or foundation degree which will have lower entry criteria but can lead to a degree courses. For more details about the Clearing process look at our special article later in the magazine.

If you are not sure about going through Clearing, you have plenty of other options. For example, you can re-take your exams, or take a year out to re-think and re-apply and perhaps earn some money to help you while you are at university or college.

You might be feeling raw at the moment if you didn't get the grades for the place you were hoping for, but don't let it put you off higher education. You have spent a lot of time over the last few years preparing for this moment, so don't be put off now.

Higher education opens doors for you that you are unlikely to find elsewhere. Purely from a financial point of view, the average graduate earns £400,000 more over a lifetime than an average non-graduate. But you will also discover things about yourself and what you think through meeting people from a wide variety of backgrounds and testing out your ideas on them. You will mature and grow intellectually, make good friends and you will have far more to offer an employer.

The period of higher education gives you a chance to try out new things and ideas in a way you never are likely to get again. So grasp the opportunity with both hands while you have it. Go for it big time and best of luck in the future.

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