Overcoming Unexpected A-Level Results: What to Do Next

Overcoming Unexpected A-Level Results: What to Do Next

Receiving unexpected A-Level results can be disheartening, especially if it means that you don’t meet the entry requirements for your chosen university. However, it’s important to remember that this setback doesn’t define your future, and thousands of students find themselves in this position.

One alternative pathway to a place at university is clearing, a process designed to help students find a spot on a different university course if they do not meet the entry requirements for their chosen course.

In this blog, we’ll help you understand what to do if you think you got bad A-Level results, guiding you toward your next steps.

What to do if you think you got bad A-Level results

1. Apply to university through clearing

If your A-Level results are not what you hoped for, applying to university through clearing is a viable option. Clearing allows you to explore available course vacancies and secure a place at a university that still has openings. It works by matching suitable students to courses that still have available places, and is a common process that most universities take part in.

Here's what you need to know:

  • Check UCAS track: log into your UCAS Track account to see if you're eligible for clearing. If your status says "Clearing" or "Clearing Plus," you can proceed with applying through this route.
  • Research clearing vacancies: visit the UCAS website or use their Clearing app to search for courses with available spaces. You can filter your search based on subject area, location, and institution. Take your time to explore different options and consider courses that align with your interests and career aspirations.
  • Research universities: Visit university websites directly to learn more about their clearing process and course vacancies. Visit our clearing page to find out more about our undergraduate courses and clearing at Heriot-Watt.

2. Remember to be patient

It's natural to feel a sense of urgency if you think you received bad A-Level results, but it's important not to rush into decisions. Take some time to process your thoughts and consider your options carefully on results day.

Give yourself the time and permission to feel disappointed, frustrated, or upset. It's completely natural to have emotional reactions when things don't go as you'd planned. Acknowledging your emotions is healthy, and doing so will allow you time to process them.

Remember that clearing lasts for several weeks, providing ample time to explore alternatives and make an informed choice. Clearing 2024 opens on the 5 July and ends on the 17 October 2024. Take this time as an opportunity to speak to teachers, careers advisors, and universities.

3. Research universities

While going through clearing, it's crucial to research universities and their available courses to find the best fit for your interests and goals. Consider the following factors:

  • Course content: look for university courses that align with your passion and career aspirations. You may even be able to find a course in the same subject as your initial choice at a different university. Explore module options and teaching methods to ensure they resonate with your academic interests.
  • University reputation: research the reputation of universities offering clearing vacancies. Consider rankings, student satisfaction, graduate employment rates, and industry connections.
  • Location and campus facilities: think about where the university is located and the campus facilities available to students. Consider important lifestyle factors such as accommodation options, extracurricular activities, and support services.

Whilst doing your research, create a list of universities and courses you're interested in. Note down their clearing hotline numbers and other relevant contact details. Prioritise the courses you are most keen on, but keep backup options in mind as well.

4. Speak to advisors and universities for advice

When making important decisions regarding your education, it's beneficial to seek advice from professionals who can provide guidance. This will help you make an informed decision and may even open up other options you weren’t aware of. Here's who you can turn to for support:

  • School or college advisors: speak to your school or college advisors, who can provide insights into how university clearing works, offer suggestions, and help you navigate the process. They’ll be used to helping students in similar situations every year, and will likely offer you some reassuring advice.
  • University admissions teams: contact admissions teams at universities you are interested in to seek their advice. They can answer your questions about the university, explain how clearing works, provide information about courses, and guide you through the application process.

5. Contact universities

When reaching out to universities during the clearing process, it's important to take the initiative and show genuine enthusiasm. Be well-prepared with your information and qualifications, and ask thoughtful questions to gain valuable insights.

Be sure to keep an open mind and consider alternative options that may arise. Maintain professionalism throughout your communication, taking notes and following up with a thank-you note to express your interest and gratitude.

Remember, contacting universities directly demonstrates your commitment and greatly enhances your chances of securing a place that aligns with your academic aspirations.

For more tips, read our Guide to University Clearing 2024.

Alternatives to university

If you originally intended to go to university but didn't get the results you needed, then applying to university through clearing is a good option. However, it's important to consider alternative paths if you don't think university is quite right for you. Here are some alternative options to explore:

  1. Apprenticeships: have a look into apprenticeship programmes that offer a combination of work experience and training. This allows you to gain practical skills while earning a wage and working towards a professional qualification. Your school or college advisor may be able to help you learn more about apprenticeships if you ask. 
  2. Vocational courses: explore vocational courses, such as diplomas or certificates, offered by colleges or training providers. These courses provide specialised skills and knowledge in specific industries, allowing you to enter the workforce sooner.
  3. Gap year: a gap year can offer valuable experiences, such as volunteering, travelling, or working. Using this time can help you develop new skills, explore different career paths, and gain clarity about your future goals.
  4. Foundation courses: some universities offer foundation programmes that provide a pathway into higher education. These programmes help you develop the necessary skills and knowledge to progress to a degree course after completing the foundation year.
  5. Retake A-Levels: if you're determined to pursue a specific course or university, you can consider retaking your A-Levels to improve your grades. Consult with your school, teachers, or educational professionals to understand the best approach for retaking exams.

Remember, while exploring alternative options, keep in mind that applying to university through clearing can still be a viable and rewarding choice. It offers a chance to secure a place at a university that aligns with your interests and opens doors to a wide range of academic and career opportunities.


In conclusion, receiving unexpected A-Level results can be disheartening, but it doesn't mean the end of your academic journey. Applying to university through clearing offers a valuable opportunity to explore available course vacancies and secure a place that aligns with your interests and aspirations.

By being proactive, researching universities, contacting them directly, and maintaining professionalism throughout the process, you can increase your chances of finding a suitable course and university.

Remember to keep an open mind, consider alternatives, and demonstrate your enthusiasm and dedication. Ultimately, by taking control of your situation and exploring all available options, you can overcome the initial setback and pave the way for a successful higher education journey

Clearing at Heriot-Watt University

Learn more about securing a place at Heriot-Watt University through clearing. Explore our undergraduate courses or visit our clearing page to learn more about a future with Heriot-Watt. To speak to a member of our friendly admission team, get in touch.