When A levels go wrong: Clearing or Retakes?

It’s now only one week until CIE A level results are released. If you’ve chosen to apply to U.K. universities, you’ve already applied through UCAS, you’ve got your firm and insurance offers confirmed, so what happens if you don’t make the grades?

First of all: don’t panic! You’re not alone – over 60,000 students missed their offers and went through Clearing last summer.

There are a number of options available to you depending on your specific circumstances, but they boil down to choosing between going through Clearing to find an alternative course, or retaking one or more of your A levels in order to re-apply for university next year.

Which option applies to your personal situation?

If you have missed the offer from your first choice university by a few percent on one of your subjects, it’s worth contacting the university immediately to see if they will accept you anyway. Even Oxford and Cambridge have been known to accept students in this position, but if you don’t call you definitely will not get a place. In this scenario, you can also apply to have these marks reviewed and re-counted, which can sometimes lead to your final grade improving enough to meet your original offer. However, in the majority of cases, the grade does not change, so don’t rely on this to get you into your university of choice.

If you have significantly missed the offer from your first choice university, but have still achieved the grades for your insurance offer, you need to establish whether you really want to go to your second choice institution. You’re not obliged to take up your place as long as you have not accepted the offer on UCAS. Think quickly, though – this is the time to check Clearing for better course and university offers that match your confirmed grades. The places will start being allocated at 6am, and the best ones will be snapped up quickly.

In extreme cases, you may find that your grades are well below what you or your school expected, and you’ve missed both your UCAS offers. This may be for medical reasons, due to periods of high stress during your exams, or it could be completely out of the blue. Whilst Clearing is obviously available in this instance, we would strongly recommend retaking some or all of your A levels. If your achieved grades are significantly lower than you were predicted, they clearly don’t demonstrate your academic ability, and any course you find through clearing that matches the grades you’ve received will not be a good fit for you.

Article last updated:July 27, 2021