How to cope with disappointment if you didn’t get the A-levels you wanted

Here are the practical and mental steps you can take if your results weren’t as good as you’d hoped

Saman Javed
Tuesday 10 August 2021 17:12
Sixth form students in Hull collect A-level results

A-level students across the UK have received their exam results following a second year of disrupted learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools were closed during two out of the three national lockdowns enacted by prime minister Boris Johnson in the past 18 months, leading to the cancellation of exams. Instead, students were assessed on a combination of mock tests, coursework and in-class tests.

This approach, to allow teachers to grade their students, comes after a controversial algorithm by exams regulator Ofqual downgraded almost 40 per cent of A-level results last year.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, education secretary Gavin Williamson, said it had been a year like “no other”.

“No other cohort of students have experienced a situation where they haven’t been able to go into the classroom for a sustained period of time, not just once, but actually twice, and we have seen people having different experiences,” he said.

Admissions service UCAS reported today that 395,770 students have been offered a place on their preferred degree, meaning approximately 58 per cent of the 682,010 people who applied for a university space this year got the results they wanted.

Those who did not receive the outcome they hoped for could be feeling disappointed, disheartened and unsure of what the future holds.

We asked some experts about the steps you can take to deal with difficult feelings if today didn’t go as planned.

Acknowledge your emotions

Not receiving the grades you wanted can throw up a number of overwhelming negative emotions such as shame, disappointment, embarrassment and anger.

These can be heightened by seeing the joy of others who were offered a place at their university of choice.

Caroline Le Vine, a counsellor and psychotherapist from Somerset, says it's important to acknowledge any feeling, no matter how negative because “being honest about your real feelings will allow you to move through them”.

“If you can’t say them out loud to someone like a friend, parent, or a trusted teacher, write them down – all of them, even the ones you’re ashamed of or feel you can’t justify,” she says.

Although not getting into university poses uncertainties about the future, Rachel Miller, a life coach who specialises in working with students, says that taking a step back and seeing this as a single disappointment can help lessen the emotional load.

“This is the part where we grow and develop as independent human beings. So take this moment to appreciate that you may not have the grades you wanted, but you do have an opportunity to grow as a person and choose your next steps,” she says.

Be kind to yourself

When faced with disappointment, it can be easy to look for something or someone to blame, and that blame can sometimes turn inwards. It’s important to not let this define how you think about yourself.

“If you feel like you are a failure, challenge that idea. You may not have got the grades you wanted and, so, in that sense, you have failed to achieve your goal. This does not mean you are a failure,” Le Vine says.

To counter these negative thoughts, it can be helpful to remember your past achievements and reaffirm your belief in yourself.

“Bring some of your focus to the things you’ve done well and to the qualities in yourself that you value - are you kind to people? Are you a good listener? Make a list of what you like about you,” she says.

This can also help put a disappointing situation into perspective, Miller says.

“These students have not had the exposure to learning and teaching the way in which previous years have had. So more than ever, these grades are not entirely a true reflection on an individual’s capabilities,” she explains.

“In this case, it would be useful to think about the past 18 months and the challenges your cohort as pupils have had to deal with, on top of a global pandemic,” she adds.

Practice mindfulness

Once you’ve acknowledged the emotions that come with disappointment, it’s best to distract your mind with an activity you normally enjoy.

“You’ll likely feel right now that nothing is enjoyable or has much meaning. Doesn’t matter; do it anyway. And while you’re doing it, notice as much as you can about what you’re doing and drink in the detail,” Le Vine says.

This mindfulness will both reduce anxiety about the future and will help you think clearly about your next steps.

“If you’ve chosen to take the dog for a walk: notice the detail of where you are – the smells, the sounds, what your dog is interested in.

“Keep practising these mindful moments. When we’re anxious, we can’t think straight and you’re going to need to think in order to figure out your next step,” she says.

Talk it out

Talking to someone you can trust can help normalise your feelings and help you develop a solution.

“This helps to open your mind to other avenues and increase your sense of hopefulness,” Miller says.

Le Vine advises talking to as many people as possible who may be able to offer guidance or advice on the situation you find yourself in. We recommend speaking to teachers, elder siblings or university students.

They have been through the university admission process before and “might be able to suggest possibilities you hadn’t even thought of”, Le Vine adds.

Mind map

When faced with a hurdle that looks to disrupt the future we had planned, it can be difficult to get back on track.

Becca Forshaw, a life and mindset coach highlights that for many professions, there are “many different paths and routes” you can take.

She recommends created a mind map of all the possible next steps you could take. “Write down anything that comes to mind, no matter how small the step may seem,” she says.

A setback like this can also be an opportunity to re-examine if the career path you thought you wanted is right for you, she adds.

“Over the next few days, take time out every morning to visualise what you would like in your life and all the things that are important, so then you can make a positive plan for the future,” she says.

Next steps

Those who did not get into their university of choice today, still have plenty of options. For a start, they may wish to appeal their A-level results.

This year’s results day was brought forward to give students ample time to appeal their grades, given that they didn’t actually sit any exams.

If you think you were graded incorrectly, you should contact your school which will carry out a review to check that all processes were followed correctly and no errors were made.

“If the school or college finds an error, they can submit a revised grade to the exam board,” the Department for Education said in its guidance.

Those who don’t want to contest their grades but have not received an offer from a university would have automatically been entered into UCAS’s clearing service and received a clearing number.

With this in tow, use this UCAS search tool to filter through and see which universities still have spaces on your desired course.

While this can seem like a daunting process, and you may feel pressure to do this is as quickly as possible, be sure to explore your options thoroughly before making a decision.

Once you’ve compiled a list of courses you like, you can ring each individual university to discuss clearing places. If you receive an offer you are happy with, this should then be added as your “Clearing choice” on UCAS Track, where it will be confirmed by the university.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in