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PostHeaderIcon Didn’t Get the A Level Grades You Were After? Here’s What to Do Next

The first thing to do is heed the advice of Douglas Adams: “Don't panic.” Getting through A-levels is a frustrating experience in itself. Many will get better than expected, many will get exactly what they expected, and many will get less than expected. Those in the last category may well find themselves in the most tenuous positions, as the mass of options as to “what to do next?” becomes overwhelming.

In some regards, one could see getting less than expected as an opportunity – rather than a setback – thanks to the wide array of new options available. Here's a few straightforward, practical paths a person found in this position can do.

Resitting the Exam

One common occurrence for those who didn't get the grades they expected is that they did well in several of their papers, but not so well in one or two others. For example, you may have performed really well on your pure maths paper, but had a bad statistics or mechanics result. The key here is identifying your strengths and weaknesses – the areas & subjects you're good at and the areas you're not so good at – and focusing your attentions there.

Taking this road is ideal for those who are confident in their abilities or those who are on “boundary grades”, i.e. those who are only a few marks off an “A” or a “C”. Though this may mean an extra year at school/college, it may also give you a chance to prove yourself and apply for universities that may have seemed out-of-reach in the past.

Would the university accept you anyway?

Those who have missed the required grades by only a few marks should call their first & second choice universities and ask if they're accepted anyway. This happens more often than people might think, especially those who have performed well at interview stages, or written a particularly outstanding personal statement. Alternatively, the university may also offer you a place on another, related course.

Intensive or “Fast Track” A-levels

Perhaps you didn't enjoy the subjects you were taking. You might have enjoyed the subjects you were taking, but found that studying anything related to those subjects at university or following it up as a career fills you with absolute dread. Rather than resitting your exams, it might well be less of a waste of time to take on a few entirely new subjects altogether. Full-time students can take up to two subjects intensively in one academic year.


Not all courses at all universities fill up. There may be universities outside of your top two UCAS choices that are willing to offer you a place, or you could find an excellent establishment with a reputable department that fills your needs in unexpected ways. Many universities excel in certain subjects, and some may even be the only ones who offer a specific, highly specialised course. Therefore, it is well worth the time to research other establishments you may not have previously considered and take a look at the sort of research they do. Doing so increases your chances of being accepted as well, as many universities may well ask why you want to attend their institution, even in clearing.

Vocational Training/Apprenticeships

Getting paid to learn on-the-job? That's what apprenticeships are all about; and for certain careers (such as engineering of many types, from software to aircraft), vocational training can often equal and sometimes even exceed the different vocational aspects learnt at the most prestigious establishments. However, don't assume that getting onto an apprenticeship is simple: though the grade requirements might be lower to gain a space on an apprenticeship than an elite university, it is still a competitive process, and employers will still want to know if you're genuinely interested in what may be a highly specialised career.

Straight to work, or starting your own business

Strange as it may seem, some people manage to land the sorts of careers that they want whilst studying for their A-levels, even if they're still in an entry-level position. Others should consider applying for entry-level positions if they want to go down this path. Knowing what you want to do before going to university can often put you one step ahead of even some of the most well-educated peers who are still at university. Spending a few years carving a niche and developing skills whilst at work may make you more employable than many newly-qualified graduates a few years down the line.

Others might have a brilliant idea that could potentially make a lot of money, or find that they already have a skill that they can make money from as a small business, sole trader or self-employed professional. Taking such a path could be risky, but the rewards can be far greater than what can be found in a more established route. Plus, who knows? In ten years time, you may even have graduates applying for a job working for you! (It's been known to happen!)

Dipak Hemraj for Duff Miller

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