I’ve done worse than expected in my A levels – what should I do?

First of all, don’t panic! 

As you’ll see from the case studies below, doing worse than you’d hoped in your A levels doesn’t have to hold you back.

You might want to reconsider whether you want to go to university at all, or whether you want to take a year or two out and reapply at later date. 

But if you’re dead set on going to uni this year, you’ve still got a chance, thanks to the process known as Clearing.

What is Clearing?

Clearing is the process whereby students who have not met the required grades for their firm or insurance universities can, through UCAS, apply to alternative universities which still have places available on courses after results day.

To clarify, Clearing is not made available to those who did not get into their first choice university but have satisfied the entry requirements of their second choice.

Alternatively, for students who have narrowly missed their firm choice, Clearing can help them to change courses by speaking directly to their first choice university to see if they could accept a place on a remaining course, rather than going to their insurance university.

When does Clearing start?

Clearing begins on Thursday 14th August 2014 – results day for A level students. It with continue to run until September.

How many universities can I contact?

In contrast to the initial UCAS application process, where you can only apply to five universities, there is no limit to the number of institutions students can apply to once they enter Clearing. So, don’t hesitate to contact further universities while you are waiting for another university to respond to your enquiry.

Can I visit the universities first to see what the campus and society opportunities are like?

Yes, this is possible, and some universities have started to offer open days especially for students considering applying to them via Clearing.

How do I find out which universities have places available on the course I want to study?

Many participating universities will list the courses with available space on their websites, and if you are unsure UCAS provides this information online. It is also possible to call the institution(s) you wish to apply to to enquire about this. This could also be the perfect opportunity to consider Joint Honours Law courses.

If I am offered a place through clearing, how do I accept it?

By logging into UCAS Track, and selecting the ‘Add Clearing Choice’ option. Once the university which has given you an offer is aware that you have accepted the place, the status of the application will change, to indicate that your place has been confirmed.

Case studies

Oyindamola Oladejo is a law student at Bucks New University, who went through Clearing in 2013


Results day was really stressful for me. I had my heart set on Nottingham Trent which was my first choice, and when I found out I hadn’t got in I was really disappointed. I hadn’t done any preparation for going into Clearing and hadn’t looked at any possible alternatives.

The teachers at my sixth-form college advised me to do a Business Law course and to try and change across to a Law course in my second year, so I talked to the admissions team at Huddersfield and they gave me an offer. I didn’t really want to start on a Business Law course because that wasn’t what interested me and it is not a path I want to follow in my career, so before accepting the offer I had another look around.

I was actually going to apply for Bucks first time around but didn’t do much research into it and decided just to apply for five universities. When I saw that Bucks still had some places on their Law course in Clearing I knew I had to give them a call because I had started to give up hope of being able to study Law. The admissions team were really friendly and helpful, putting me at ease and answering all the questions I had.

Now that I am coming to the end of my first year my course has been even better than I had expected. I had wanted to go to a much bigger university but going to a smaller department has definitely worked in my advantage. 

One of the highlights for me this year has been becoming a student rep. If anyone in my class had any problems with the course or the university as a whole they would come to me and it was my responsibility to help them resolve it. I also had to attend regular meetings with the lecturers and other staff in the department to act as the voice for the students providing feedback from my class. I even became a senior rep, overseeing all the other student reps in my department. This was a great responsibility but has really taught me a lot and given me an experience that I know will help me when I get a job.

For students going through Clearing without a back-up plan already in mind my advice would be to be persistent. Not getting into your first choice shouldn’t stop you from doing the course you really want to do. It is a knock and you may feel like maybe you should be following a different path but if you are focused and determined then you will find a way to get there.

Fiona Ding is a third-year LLB student at the University of Southampton.

I missed that final requisite A by a grand total of four per cent. I didn’t even see it coming.

I won’t lie – it devastated me. I had no contingency plan. I considered everything from retaking my A levels to relocating to a cave to live as a cranky hermit. It is a terrible feeling to have your hopes crushed through no fault but your own. You feel like you may never be good enough again. But you will heal.

I suddenly had to make very important decisions, very quickly, with almost no idea how to make them. I discussed it with my parents and people I knew who had gone through the process before, and I decided that I would go straight into Clearing.

It was as simple as telephoning the UCAS calls centre and asking them what to do. In retrospect, that is really where the healing process began. I met the kindest, most patient UCAS and university staff on the other end of my phone calls; strangers who explained everything to me and wished me only the best. I called the University of Southampton with the last shred of hope I had and explained my situation. They were understanding and encouraging, and after asking me a few questions about myself and reviewing my application, they offered me a place. 

When you reach that point, you realise that someone has recognised your potential, and you will feel worthwhile again. So, don’t give up. At first, it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that I had to completely change my plans, but I found that I loved the university and dived into all it had to offer. I became course representative for international students. I ran for Vice President of the Law Society, and became Secretary for the Lawyers Without Borders Society. I am excited to have been shortlisted for an interview with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer this week to be their campus ambassador.

Learn that people don’t look at your failures, because everyone fails at some point. What matters is not how many times you’ve been knocked down, it’s the number of times you can get up and push yourself again.

Chris Mayo is an LLB student at the University of Law

After sending off your personal statement there is a certain anxiety as you wonder if you have done enough to make them want you. And if, as happens sometimes, you do not succeed in getting the place that you so hoped for, the nervous excitement gives way to a feeling that somehow you weren’t quite good enough. This is what I experienced last year when I wasn’t accepted by my first choice university.

However, it wasn’t the end of my university aspirations and I decided to persevere through clearing. I was determined to get a place on the two-year LLB at the University of Law, although my application was initially rejected. I contacted their admissions department and asked to be put forward for reconsideration if they had any places available in clearing. As it transpired there were and upon reconsideration I was granted a place on the course.

Having managed to finally get there I feel that it was most definitely worth the fight. The course is fast-paced, the careers department is second to none (they even have intelligence folders on the different law firms’ recruitment procedures) and the tutors couldn’t be more helpful. I’ve managed to secure work experience with lawyers and firms and am currently waiting on replies to training contract applications. My advice to anyone who goes through clearing is not to give up. Get yourself back on track by contacting the admissions departments, thoroughly researching the courses and institutions and making the most out the second chance that clearing offers you.