Higher national diplomas, or HNDs, are a good alternative if you want a more vocational and practical approach to your studies. They normally require one A-level at grade E or above and take two years.

If you enjoy, and successfully complete, an HND, you can normally qualify to enter the second year of a related degree if you want to. Apply for HNDs through UCAS.

'I'm definitely on the right course'

Victoria Caffrey, 19, is studying for a full-time HND in social sciences at Teesside University. She got a C in her AVCE in health and social science at Stokesley School in Middlesbrough.

'I wasn't enjoying my time in sixth form, so I dropped out after my first year and decided to rethink my academic options.

I took a year out to work and started researching psychology degrees, but found I didn't meet the academic criteria. I called a few institutions for advice and Teesside recommended I take their HND in social sciences as a stepping stone to their psychology degree.

My course is really interesting and the work is challenging. Most of the learning is done in lectures and seminars and we are assessed on an ongoing basis, rather than in final examinations.

At the end of this year I have two options: I can continue with the second year of my HND or transfer to the first year of a psychology degree. I want to study clinical or child psychology, so which ever route I choose, I am in the right place and doing the right course.'

Foundation degrees

Foundation degrees combine an academic approach with specific business, technical and specialist skills, useful in the workplace. Designed in consultation with businesses, foundation degrees leave students with skills needed by employers, giving them an added edge in the workplace.

These degrees are still relatively new, but there are now over 70 subjects available, so it's fast becoming a popular option. Entry requirements depend on individual institutions, but they can be offered to people without any formal qualifications.

'Everyone is in the same boat'

Christopher Lizarondo, 19, is from London and doing a foundation degree in civil engineering at the capital's City University. He got A- levels in maths (D), art (C) and computing (E), at the London Oratory School.

'The course so far has been great and the tutors have given us a fantastic insight into engineering. Because I didn't do a physics A-level, it has helped bring me up to speed with this side of engineering, which I would have found very difficult if I had started an undergraduate degree straight away.

Everyone on the course is in the same boat - they either got the wrong grades or don't have the right subjects yet to do an undergraduate degree, and there's good camaraderie.

We have exams at the end of every module, which keeps me on my toes, but I prefer this sort of assessment, rather than everything relying on how well you do at the end of two years.'

Retakes

If your heart is set on attending a particular institution or studying a certain subject, or both, then retakes might be a good option. Do bear in mind, though, that some universities and colleges ask for higher grades from resit candidates. You can take them at your old school or college, although it might seem strange when your friends have left. Private colleges, also known as crammers, offer resits too. The atmosphere is generally friendly and relaxed, with smaller classes.

Check with your school or college to see how much they charge for resits. If you decide to go to a private college, expect to pay quite high fees - anything from £1,500 per subject per term. To find a private college, consult the Council for Independent Further Education - a professional association of 27 sixth-form and tutorial colleges which are regularly inspected. www.getthegrade.co.uk/about.cfm

'I didn't want the luck of the draw'

Andrew Wayman, 19, is studying for an information management and computing degree at Loughborough University. He got A-levels in geography (D), maths (D) and computing (C) at Chigwell School in Essex, before doing resits at Davies Laing and Dick College in London, improving his grades to BAB, respectively.

'When I failed to meet my offers first time round, I didn't want to go through Clearing because I had been told to choose the institution first, as that was where I would be spending the next three or four years of my life - I didn't want the luck of the draw.

I visited Davies Laing and Dick, liked it, got on with the tutors I met and spoke to and applied for a place. With resits, there was more pressure to do well because of my previous results. But second time round it was less a case of understanding the work and more of actually doing it and concentrating on the stuff I got wrong before. The time I spent there was great. I met loads of new people, had some fun and there was a good atmosphere.

When I re-applied for a higher education place, I chose slightly different courses and places. I probably downgraded slightly overall, because not getting in again was always in the back of my mind. I took more time choosing the courses and institutions and went to visit more of them early on than I did the year before.

If you know you could have done better in your A-levels, believe you can get the grades you need in a resit, and, most importantly, have your parents' support, I would recommend taking resits because you get to go to the institution of your choice, not someone else's.'

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