Which Way: A blessing in disguise?

Marks not quite up to scratch? Stay positive, says Kate Shimmon
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The Independent Online

The first piece of advice you will be given by everyone is: don't panic. And, you know what, they're right. Not getting the grades you need for your first-choice institution might feel like the end of the world, but it isn't. Really.

Now is the time, no matter how desperate you're feeling, to steel yourself to take positive action. There are lots of options available to you and lots of people out there to help you weigh them up. You can still get a place, but it is down to you to summon up the energy to get the process going.

Step one is to use Track to see if the universities or colleges have made a decision yet on your application. Many universities and colleges will still offer you a place if you only missed your grades by a margin. If they won't accept you on to the course you applied for, contact them, as you may be able to switch to a similar course within the institution, or to a course containing the subject you originally wanted to study, or something similar to it.

If none of these options is available to you, your insurance-choice university or college may be able to help you. Check on Track: you may well have met their requirements. If they won't take you, and you're sure you still want to go into higher education this year, your next port of call is Clearing. Don't for one moment assume the courses in Clearing are the bottom of the heap.

Like you, many students would have missed their grades this year and their much sought-after places will have gone straight into Clearing. Look through the UCAS listings on www.ucas.com and published in The Independent to find vacancies on your course elsewhere. You don't need to stick to the subject you originally applied for. Make a list of other courses that appeal to you.

When you ring an institution during Clearing, be careful not to rush into a hasty decision if you are offered a place, particularly if it's on a very different course. You put a lot of thought into your first-choice institution and there's not need for all that to go out of the window just because things haven't quite gone to plan. A decision that is going to affect how and where you spend the next three or four years of your life deserves some thought.

It is crucial that you visit an institution where you are thinking of accepting a place. By all means look at the prospectus and website, but nothing will give you the flavour of a place like being there.

If you do decide to take up a place through Clearing, remember that your local authority needs to know of any change of university, college or course. They can then inform you of any financial help you may be entitled to.

So, all is not lost. Many students who don't get the grades they want either find the same course elsewhere, or end up doing a course they hadn't previously considered, and loving it.