Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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Clearing: it's a horrible moment when you take your future in your hands

Published By: The Independent - 28 Aug 2008

Itís a truly horrible moment when you open your A level results and your whole future is suddenly one big question mark! Whether your disappointing results have come as a complete shock, or something you feared all along, the outcome is exactly the same. All you can think about is: what on earth do I do now?

The first thing is Ė nothing at all.

Try and gauge what you are feeling as you take in your results. Or, if itís too late for that, think back to how you felt at that moment. Plummeting disappointment probably means you really do want to pursue your goal, no matter what the obstacles. Sneaky relief, on the other hand, will be telling you that maybe you never really wanted to go to the university you had chosen, or study the subject that you thought you did. Or maybe you donít want to go to university at all. Or, at least, not just at the moment.

Take a deep breath, push aside any pressure from teachers and parents (itís your life, not theirs) and remember that there are still plenty of options open to you.

If your grades are only just below what you needed, and you still want to take up one of your offers, hit the phones fast and try and talk your way in. The way that places are allocated at this stage is a very rough science, and prizes go to the brave and bold. If there is any reason why your grades are low, explain this clearly and quickly, but whatever you do donít sound as if you are whining or making excuses.

If that doesnít work, you will be joining about 30,000 other students in the clearing system and at this stage it pays to do some good, hard thinking about your options. Do you want to stick with your chosen subject, do something close to it Ė pharmacology, say, instead of medicine Ė or something quite different? You wouldnít be the first would-be student to suddenly realise that you actually hate economics and really want to study English literature.

Check out vacancies through the UCAS website, and through this paper (Andy: Yes?). Take advice and be persistent. The phones will be busy, but stick at it, and be sure to be clear in your mind about what you want to ask when someone finally answers. It helps to write things down. And donít jump in blind panic at anything you are offered. Think about it carefully, and even visit the university in question, if at all possible. Time taken over this now can prevent a lot of problems later.

However, if you have a nagging feeling that you donít want to go to university at all, take that feeling seriously. Higher education is expensive and demanding, and thereís no point going into it unless you are really prepared to do the work Ė and stack up plenty of debts in the process.

Going straight to work suits some school-leavers much better, and is likely to become more popular again as the credit crunch bites. Many young adults enjoy becoming bankers, surveyors and accountants by that route, are glad to find themselves buying flats and cars just as their peers are struggling to land their first graduate job.

If you really donít know what you think about anything, give yourself time to ponder your life. Of course, youíll have to fund it by finding some sort of menial job, but a year of working, maybe with some travelling or voluntary work thrown in, might be just what you need to clear your head and to discover the right way forward for you.