A Level results day is an exciting, terrifying time. Your A Level grades are, after all, what get you into uni – a lot rests on that little bunch of letters.

That means that if you didn’t quite get the grades you were hoping for, you’re probably freaking out. We don’t blame you – it’s easy to feel like bad grades are the end of the world.

But before you descend into a full-on 2007 Britney meltdown, take a minute to read through your options. There’s plenty you can do to get back on track: you probably already know about Clearing, but there are other possibilities too.

There are also loads of options if you don’t go to university at all – and with rising tuition fees, avoiding the traditional route could actually leave you better off.

So we’ve split our guide into two parts: the first deals with getting into university when you haven’t got the grades you wanted, and the second with alternative options.

So take a deep breath, and read on.

Dead set on uni? Start here.

Keep Trying

Your first port of call should always be to check UCAS Track – you might have been accepted even with your lower grades.

If it shows that you’ve been unsuccessful, there’s nothing else you can do: unis won’t reconsider a firm rejection.

However, if your status hasn’t changed yet, they may still be deciding, so you can call the uni to plead your case. This is most likely to be successful if you’ve only missed out by a few marks, or if you intend to appeal any grades. More prestigious universities will be less inclined to be lenient, so if you don’t have any luck appealing your first choice, you might still be successful with your insurance choices.

Make it clear that you aren’t applying through Clearing and that you have an existing offer. Remember to stay calm and polite even though you’re stressed – the person on the phone will be more inclined to help you if you come across like someone they’d want at their university.


If you’ve had no luck with the persuasion game and you’re still set on uni, the next step is Clearing. Since it’s a way for unis to fill their empty spaces, there’s a huge variety of courses available, including places at Russell Group universities.

You can use UCAS’s search tool to find university courses that still have places available. Make a list of courses you’re interested in, do some research on them, then call them up to discuss. You’ll need your Clearing number handy so the uni can access your UCAS application – you can find this on Track.

If they decide to give you an offer, they’ll give you a course and uni code. When you decide to accept an offer, enter these into Track under ‘Add a Clearing Choice’. Remember, you can only make one Clearing choice at a time, and you can only do so after you’ve called the university and had a verbal offer.

You don’t need to accept right away, as offers can stand for up to two days (though you should confirm this with the uni). You can call around and get a few offers before making your final choice.


If you believe your grades are wrong, you can ask for them to be checked. This can be done as a priority re-mark if your university application is at stake. You’ll need to do this through your school or college, and you’ll pay a fee which you’ll only get back if your grades are changed.

Remember, your grades can go up as well as down, so make sure you’re certain you deserve a higher mark.


If you don’t want to enter clearing (or haven’t found anything suitable) and are committed to going to university, re-taking your A Levels could be an option. There are a few ways to do this.

If you like the traditional classroom style of learning, some schools and sixth forms might allow you to resit them there. Call your own first, then look up other schools in the area and explain the situation to them. You might need to pay a fee to resit.

If you don’t want to stay in school, then taking an online course from home is your best bet. This is the perfect choice if you’re planning on getting a job or travelling, as online learning means you can study from anywhere, at any time.  There are several online A Level courses, but bear in mind that some have strict deadlines, so if you’re planning on taking a few months out or working, it’s best to find a flexible course (like ours - we’re #1 for a reason).

If you’re feeling brave, and are confident in your abilities, you can also opt to study by yourself and sit the exam as an external candidate.

Whichever way you choose to learn, you’ll sit the exam again in summer next year.

Almost all universities accept students who resit their A Levels, as devoting another year to learning shows maturity, commitment to education and an ability for independent study, particularly if you don’t go the school route.

You might need slightly higher grades than if you passed the first time, so it’s a good idea to combine studying for resits with extra-curricular activities like jobs, travel or volunteering, so that you can make yourself as attractive as possible to universities.

Gap Years

If you have good enough grades to get into a course you’ll enjoy but couldn’t find anything in Clearing, re-applying next year is a great choice. It’s much better to take a year out and wait for something that’s right for you than to accept the first course that’ll have you and end up studying a terrible course at a uni you hate.

You could use this time to top up your grades, get a job, go travelling, and/or do volunteer work. All will make you more attractive to universities – you’ll develop new skills, become more mature, and generally have a better idea of where you’re going with your life.

Looking for alternative options? This is for you.

If you think uni might not be the best route for you, you could well be right. Recent studies have shown that the majority of the time, student debt cancels out the extra earning potential that having a degree brings. Maintenance grants have just been scrapped so the poorest students will be in more debt, and tuition fees are set to keep rising every year.

In light of all this, it seems likely that more and more people are going to opt for alternative routes. We’ve discussed a few of your options below.

Vocational and Professional Qualifications

Vocational qualifications are work-related qualifications: they generally qualify you to do a specific job to nationally set standards.

To help you understand them better, it’s useful to compare vocational qualifications to academic qualifications using the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), which sorts qualifications into levels of difficulty from 1 to 8. For example, a course set at Level 2 is roughly equivalent to a GCSE at A-C grade; an HNC is at Level 4 so it’s equivalent to the first year of a university degree; and a Level 6 qualification is equivalent to a degree.

You can do vocational qualifications related to almost any industry: HR, accounting, marketing, beauty, fitness, construction, IT, cooking – you can even get courses in management and leadership to help you rise to the top.

And they don’t have to involve hands-on experience if you’d prefer something more flexible. We provide a wealth of accredited professional qualifications completely online, so, like doing A Levels with us, you can work or travel while you study.

You can also gain vocational qualifications through working, with….


Many lucrative careers can come out of apprenticeships. Big companies like the BBC, Lloyds Banking, IBM and Rolls Royce frequently take on apprentices, and many companies love being able to train someone from the very beginning.

Apprenticeships allow you to study for your qualification while gaining valuable experience working in your chosen field, which is a huge advantage over those who’ve studied more academic courses but have no real-world experience. Plus, you earn money!

Programmes usually last between one and four years, and you’ll generally study one day per week and work the rest of the time.

You can find vacancies on the National Apprenticeships Service website.


While having a qualification (or working towards one) will definitely put you ahead in the jobs market, you’ve also got the opportunity to start at the bottom and work your way up. Most employers will recognise a good employee when they see one, so if you work hard, there can be great opportunities for advancement. Some companies will even put you through further training if they think you’re a real asset to the business.

Well-paying jobs you don’t need a degree for (although you may need professional training) include: pilot, real estate agent, chef, policeman or woman, and fireman or woman. If you’ve got an entrepreneurial streak, you could also start your own business.

This is just a brief list, but there are loads of options out there – sites like Not Going to Uni can tell you more about everything you can do without going down the traditional higher education route.

With so many incredible possibilities at your fingertips, you never know - you might just find that missing out on your university choices was one of the best things that’s ever happened to you.

To find out more about taking your A Levels with us, have a look at the subjects we do, then get in touch. You can chat online to our expert A Level course advisors using the red button at the top of the page, or by phone or email. We'll be happy to help!

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