Whether you get top marks or not, an amazing university or college experience can still await you

Jennifer Nkire, 24, got A-levels in mechanics and pure maths (E), computing (D), and physics (D) at Newham College in Stratford, London. She is now studying engineering at the University of Bradford but her grades were not good enough to get onto the course she initially wanted.

I applied to Bradford through UCAS, but my A-level results weren't what I'd expected. I had my heart set on Bradford, so the first thing I did was call up their Clearing line. The man I spoke to asked what grades I had, what I was looking for, and then came up with a solution: he said I would be able to get onto the engineering foundation course instead of the degree course.

By doing the foundation degree, I could still get onto the degree course I had wanted, and in that extra year I gained a lot more confidence and became even more certain of what I wanted to do. I'm now doing an honours degree in electronics, telecommunication and internet engineering.

By the time I started my degree, I'd lived in halls of residence for a year, so I'd already made those adjustments and met other students. Plus, after not gaining great results in my A-levels, doing really well in my foundation year made me think, "Hang on - I do know what I'm doing!" It made me realise there's so much potential in me.

Jennifer's top tip: Some people feel like a failure if they go through Clearing. That's one thing you shouldn't have to worry about. Clearing might not be the route you want, but it will take you where you want - you just have to be patient. Meanwhile, you'll meet lots of people and gain loads of experience.

'At uni, you get out what you put in'

Luke Sloan, 20, got A-levels in history (A), sociology (A), English literature (B), philosophy and ethics (B), and general studies (A). He went to Hele's School in Plympton near Plymouth, and is studying a three-year BSc in politics in Plymouth. He found his place through UCASExtra.

I had an interview at Oxford, which was my first choice university, but I didn't get in. I had offers at various red-brick universities, but decided to stay in Plymouth. It's lovely: you're right by the sea and there's lots of money being put into the city. Plus, I know the place, so that made the transition from school to uni much easier, and finding employment to support my studies easier.

In my first year, I thought the course wasn't pushing me enough, but then I realised that at university, you get out what you put in. Once you understand that, you start to enjoy your course a lot more.

We've got halls of residence in the town, but I live at home because it's cheaper. I had to get to know people through study, which took longer because I was only in for a couple of hours a day.

I really enjoy the different teaching style at uni. At GCSE and A-level, they'd take you to a certain point and then stop, which I found that frustrating. At uni, there's no cut-off point for knowledge.

Luke's top tip: Be sure you're doing things for the right reasons. Why are you going to uni or college? Do you want to go further with it? Have you considered debt? All your choices should be made by balancing these things out. The high point for me has been getting involved in so many new things.

'The social life has been a high point'

Tim Blake, 20, got A-levels in history (A), religious studies (A), and food technology (A). He went to Monks Walk School in Welwyn Garden City and is studying history at the University of York.

I was anxious about making my grades at A-level. I had an AAB offer, so all I could do was study hard and hope. Luckily, it paid off! But I found the whole process very stressful.

I've always enjoyed history and done well at it. In the first year at York, you get a series of tasters where different professors give talks on everything from the Blitz to the Barbarians or the North Korean War.

Most of our professors are really nice and every student is allocated an eminent professor. Mine is Peter Biller, who is an absolute legend. It's a very personal thing, and that really helps with the learning. Your supervisor is always at the end of the telephone or an e-mail away, and they have office hours so you can pop in. There's an emphasis on doing the work yourself, but there's masses of support and guidance.

York is quite a small university, but there is a big social life here. That's been the high point of this year for me - getting involved in so many new things. I present for the university's radio and I'm the secretary of the history society as well. That's a lot of fun. We went to Rome this Easter, and we do historic bar crawls and ghost walks. It helps being in York, because it's quite a historic place.'

Tim's top tip: Research your options as much as you can. Every college or university tries to sell you something, but it's important to consider the make-up of your course to ensure it's what you want.