/ Parenting

A-level results day: did you have a plan B (or C)?

Students revising on picnic table

Thousands of students await their A-level results, but how many of them are prepared if they don’t get the grades they were after? I know I certainly didn’t have a results day back-up plan – did you?

Tomorrow around 300,000 students will find out whether or not they’ve bagged a university place. Some will get their first choice and others will get their insurance choice, but many won’t meet their offers and will be entered into the second-chance system, Clearing.

Within just a few days, many prime places will have been snapped up through Clearing – so the pressure’s on to choose a new course and university, fast.

So it’s no surprise, then, that our latest Which? University research shows that 37% of students who went through Clearing last year felt pressured to take the first offer they received.

Oliver Mower, a second-year student at Bournemouth University, told us:

‘It can seem like a hectic race to get the course you want. When I began searching for courses, the only thing I wanted was for the whole process to be over.’

Getting the grades

This time four years ago, I was nervously waiting for my own set of A-level results. But, like many of my peers, I was completely unprepared for the unthinkable – that I might not achieve my predicted grades and get into my top choice uni. In fact, I was one of many whose back-up ‘plan B’ uni required the same grades as my top choice.

Luckily I did make the grade and didn’t need a plan C to fall back on, but last year over 55,000 students accepted a place through Clearing – a not-so insignificant 12% of all university admissions for 2012.

Plan C – Clearing

Our survey revealed that many students felt unprepared to apply for a new course through Clearing. Three quarters weren’t sure what to expect when phoning universities with Clearing spaces, 38% said they ‘panicked’ and nearly half admitted they accepted a place without doing as much research as they wanted.

And while it’s good to hear that the majority of students who gained their place through Clearing were satisfied with their university and course one year on, they were significantly more likely to regret their choice of university (17% versus 9%) or course (15% versus 9%) than those who met their original offers.

This makes getting the right information and advice at the right time – and quickly – all the more essential. For example, here’s what you shouldn’t do in Clearing:

What not to do in Clearing

We want to know what your experience was like on results day – did you have to go for a plan B or C? How do you think students can be better prepared in case things don’t go their way – and what other options are there?


I had a plan B that was looking for slightly lower grades than my top choice which made the morning of results slightly less scary. I was lucky and managed secure the grades I’d been predicted but not all of my friends did. Looking back now it made no difference to how much we all enjoyed our time at university. Whether a backup choice or a clearing place everyone had a great experience and feels just as much affection for their old uni now as they would have done if it had been first choice!

Simon Franc says:
14 August 2013

My advice would be that if you don’t already have a plan B, think carefully before rushing to clearing. A University is a very personal choice and you have to make sure you will be happy there and feel ‘at home’. If you don’t have a plan B I would advise you to think about taking a year out, working and reapplying for the next intake. 1. With already having your grades when applying for next year it is sometimes easier to get an advanced place at a University that you really want to go to. 2. If you get a good job for the interim year which holds some relation to, or which builds skills towards what you want to do after university it can be invaluable and will aid you greatly in getting to the interview stages for internships. I took a year out, got a job and now work for a top investment bank. On another note if you are looking to go into accounting or finance the top firms have target universities. It will pay to attend one of these or at least ensure that the university is top 20. But, ultimately with places on grad schemes now so competitive, a good CV with work experience is paramount.

I didn’t make the grades I’d expected and I was so upset – I’d worked so hard and banked on my first choice. Luckily my second choice uni had asked for lower grades, so I was able to take up the offered place there. It took me a while to get used to the idea, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at uni and on reflection I think the course (same subject but slightly different format) I ended up on was the best one for me.

If I hadn’t made the grades for either of my choices, I think I’d have taken a gap year – it would have felt like a long time to wait to reapply but I think the amount of time I’d taken over my original application would mean I wouldn’t have wanted to make a decision in a hurry. However, I suspect there are many other students who’d prefer to take the plunge, or who find something exciting through clearing!

I had a complete nightmare on results day. I made my grades but my exam board hadn’t consolidated them and sent them to my university so I spent the day faxing through copies of results and a letter from the exam board. It was mega stressful. I was lucky though as I was still able to secure my place in my first choice uni. I didn’t have a back up plan, in retrospect the day would have been far less stressful if I had.

I had a terrible time too, I had no plan B and failed to get my grades! Needless to say, there were lots of tears! Clearing was initially quite stressful, I’ll never forget being in this huge queue of people that didn’t get their grades, waiting to discuss my options.

I decided to look at similar courses in the universities I had applied for in the first place. I ended up doing History of Art instead of English. It had a really similar approach to my initial course, but focused on different texts, and I got into a better uni (in terms of the league table) than I had initially intended!

Quite a few of my friends missed out on their first choices, and in some cases this changed their paths (one initially wanted to be banker, he is now doing a philosophy PHD), but we wouldn’t swap the experiences we ended up with in the end!