Didn’t make the grade?

Didn’t get the exam results you’d expected? Don’t panic, there are still several options available to you…

Depressed student When your grades aren’t what you were expecting or hoping for it can be very upsetting, but don’t panic, this isn't heralding the end of your higher education dreams. Whether you were dead set on getting on that university course or you simply don't know what to do next, there are a number of different routes available to help you find, or reach, your next goal.


If you know what you want to do next and are willing to look around at different courses and universities, then you should consider Clearing [new window].

A UK service provided by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), if you are flexible and have reasonable exam results, there is still a good chance you will find another course at the same university, or a similar one elsewhere.

Available from mid August to late September, universities post available spaces on Clearing, so you can simply search for courses you're interested in and see what's available. Often you can find the same or similar course at another university that will take you on for lower grades. More than 30,000 people gain a place during Clearing every year, so there's a good chance you'll find something that will work for you.

Which? University has a very useful 'Survivor's Guide to Clearing’ that you might want to check out…

First hand experience

IET member Michaela Appleby went on to graduate after going through Clearing.

"My original UCAS application was to Manchester University to study Civil Engineering with a year in North America, which I needed to get two As and one B at A level for," she explains. "However when results day came I found I had only achieved a B and two Cs. My conditional offer from Manchester was declined and I was devastated. After a long hard think I decided to go through the Clearing process as I was determined to go to university still.

"I spoke to my head of sixth form and she helped me work out the best solution. Lancaster University was offering an engineering course that would accept me with the grades I had and so I arranged a meeting with them. Three years on I graduated from Lancaster and went onto study an Msc in Sustainable Manufacturing."


If you're determined to gain a place on a specific course or you really want to get better results, then your best option is to retake your exams. But take heart, many students sail through their exams the second time around.

Often this is because the re-sit classes can be much smaller and so each student is given a lot more attention. Re-sit classes can be expensive, but in the end if they help you get top grades, then they're worth their weight in gold.

A different route to university?

If you find the idea of re-sitting A levels too unbearable, perhaps you could consider an entry level course to fill the gap.

After his GCSEs Sean Canty was bored of classroom learning and so went into an apprenticeship. He went on to do a foundation course that gave him access to a degree education at City University.

"The course was fantastic, it started at GCSE level and finished higher than A level. It was specific to my course, so it targeted the requirement of the degree. It was a very steep learning curve and was hard work, but at the end of the course I felt I was better prepared for the degree than those who had taken A levels," he explains.

So, how do you find out more about these kinds of opportunities?

"Speak to the university, ask them what is required and preferred for admission. Investigate the foundation courses that are available and speak to the lecturers on the course. Choose a route that you feel will most suit your learning style, it will make life easier if you enjoy what you are learning and the way in which you learn it," says Canty.

Take a year out

If none of these appeal, why not take a year out to consider your options and add another notch to your belt.

You could stay at home, save money for the future and get a job - this may lead to new opportunities itself. Perhaps you could go travelling: see the world and experience new cultures. You're likely to find this will improve on existing skills and give you new ones, perhaps giving you a better feel for where you want to go with your career.

For example, IET member Dan Evans says he "found himself" whilst travelling.

"Travelling around South East Asia, Australia and America, I had to do a lot of work planning the day-to-day travels," he says. "We had such a short time in each place so we had to cram in as much as we could. I discovered that I enjoyed sitting down, planning routes and finding ways to achieve things. When I came back I looked for project management types of roles within an engineering company."

You could also consider taking time out doing volunteer work abroad. Organisations such as RedR work specifically with engineers, placing people with these skills in areas where their abilities can make a real difference.

Decisions, decisions

As you can see, there are still lots of options available to you if you didn’t get the grades you needed. You may have had a set route in mind, but life's full of twists and turns, and grabbing new opportunities and experiences make us what we are.

Research your options by reading about other IET members that took unconventional routes in their careers.