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What to Do if Your A-Levels Are Worse Than Expected

What to Do if Your A-Levels Are Worse Than Expected main image

Finding out you haven’t done as well in exams as you had expected can be devastating, particularly if it affects your ability to get into your preferred university. If this has happened to you, don’t panic. There’s still a good chance you’ll be accepted into your first-choice university or onto an equally good course at another university. Here’s a step-by-step guide to what you need to do now.

Call your first-choice university

If your results are lower than the conditional offer, call the university straight away to talk to the admissions department. Explain your situation and make an argument for why you should still be accepted. Maybe you only missed out by a few marks, or there’s an exam result that you might consider appealing?

Even if there isn’t, applications to UK universities have fallen this year, meaning there isn’t as much competition for places. If you’re calm, collected and able to put your case across well on the phone, you could still be heading to your preferred university next month.

Find another university through clearing

If that hasn’t worked, there’s still a good chance you’ll be going to university. UCAS Clearing will automatically pair you up with similar courses to the ones you applied to, while listings will also appear in newspapers (although let’s face it, it’s easier when everything is online).

You don’t have to go through clearing immediately, but bear in mind that universities will fill the leftover places on their courses on a first come-first served basis. The longer you leave it, the fewer options you’ll have.

Fortunately, the fall in UK applications this year means there should be lots of places at top UK universities this year, including at Russell Group universities, so you should be able to find something. You might even find you can get a place at a university that’s previously rejected your application!

After finding a course via clearing that interests you, call the admissions department. As above, be calm and professional and outline the course you want to study and why. Treat the call like a job interview and with any luck you’ll be accepted.

Find out more about clearing here.

Don’t rush into a decision you’ll regret

It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of activity on A-level results day and end up accepting a place on a course you know you won’t actually enjoy. Remember that today doesn’t have to end with you having a confirmed place at a university. There are other options.

Going back to school may not sound like fun, but retakes will provide you with the opportunity to improve your application for next year. You could also use this extra year to save up money or expand your portfolio of skills, perhaps with some relevant work experience.

There are also universities outside the UK. Rather than study somewhere depressingly dull in this country, take the time to research opportunities to study at a university abroad. There are a vast number of English-language courses in Europe and further afield, and you might find it easier to get a place with the grades you’ve achieved. Depending on the country, term will be starting soon though, so you’ll want to be quick unless you decide to take a year out first.

Find out more about applying to university abroad here.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that teachers, family and friends are there to support you. Today’s bad results are just a momentary blip on the way towards the future you want, and there are countless, illustrious people who failed their exams at school and went on to be huge successes. There’s no reason to doubt that, one day, that could be you too.

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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