Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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Low grades? Finding another university

Published By: The Independent - 12 Aug 2007

Oh no! You havenít got the grades you were hoping for in your A levels. Is it a disaster? Certainly not. There are still all kinds of opportunities open to you Ė and, remember, when life takes an unexpected turn, it can often be for the best.

If you are dead set on the course you had in mind then you will probably need to retake youíre A levels and try again. But take heart Ė many students sail through their exams second time around. Alternatively, through Clearing, you might find another institution offering the same, or a similar course that is willing to take you with lower grades. Equally, if you are completely wedded to the university of your choice, there may well be a course that you could switch to where the entry requirements are less stringent. But remember to think laterally. If you had planned to do, say, history, spread out and look at classical studies, theology, philosophy, or perhaps a joint honours course incorporating a less popular subject such as a modern foreign language.

Or maybe this is a chance to switch direction altogether and to find a course that specialises one of your other interests, maybe computers, or sports, or drama.

If none of these appeal, why not take time off to consider? A year of work and travel could be just the thing to help you to refine your ambitions and think about your options.

Alexandra Gerondaes, 19, went through Clearing to get a place to study for a degree in Early Childhood Studies

ďI didnít think about going to university. All I thought about was having a yearís break, and travelling or doing a job. I think I was scared. But as the summer went on I began to think that if I didnít get back into education straight away, then maybe I wouldnít get into it at all. And my friends were all going, so I started to think differently. Then I found this early childhood course on the Middlesex website and it sounded really interesting. I did double media and photography for my A levels and I got three Cs. I rang up Middlesex about the course but I didnít think Iíd got the right grades, until a lady there said I had. On the first day I was so scared. I didnít know anyone, and I thought ĎOh my Godí. But I started talking to everyone and anyone, and some of the people I first talked to are now my good friends. Universityís very different sixth form, there are all kinds of different people, of all different ages, and in the work you have to do much more in-depth writing. But the tutors are really helpful, and I love my course and now want to become an early years teacher. The year has gone so fast! Iíd say to anyone, if youíre thinking about doing it, then go for it. It pays off in the end.Ē

Luke Puente de la Vega, 19, re-sat his A levels after failing to get the grades he needed to study dentistry

ďI wasnít best pleased when I saw my A level results. I took biology, chemistry and physics and I got B,B,C. I thought about applying to do biomedical sciences and then going on to dentistry, but I worked out that if I re-sat my A levels and went straight into dentistry it would take me a year less. Iíd been at an ordinary state school in Newcastle. I looked around on the internet to see which places did re-sits and the first place I hit was MPW (the tutorial college, Mander Portman Woodward). Theyíve got places in Birmingham, Cambridge and London. I didnít really want to go to Birmingham and Londonís expensive, so I went to Cambridge, and itís been really good. Class sizes are never bigger than eight, and my classes were no bigger than five, so I got a lot more attention. With classes that size itís a lot easier to ask when youíve got a problem, and you just start to do better. I re-did two modules in biology and I changed boards in physics and chemistry, but the syllabuses are very similar and the tutors made sure I knew everything I needed to know. The school helped me find somewhere to live, and it was really convenient and good. Now Iím hoping for three As, and Iím quite optimistic. Even by January my lowest mark was 81 per cent. Iíve got an offer from Glasgow for two As and a B. Itís expensive to do re-sits, I think the year cost something like £4,500, but I got a bursary, which helped, and my Mum said she was prepared to pay if it helped me get into dentistry.Ē

Robert Gibbon, 19, took a gap year to work and travel after failing to get into medical school

ďI applied for university last year but didnít get any offers because I applied to study medicine, and the offers are scarce. So I was forced (although this word now, after my gap year experience, seems so wrong) to take a gap year. Following my A levels, and a lot more thought, I decided I really wanted to study English literature. I then began thinking about my gap year and decided to teach. While I was terrified of the idea, I was also thrilled at the thought of standing in front of a classroom and being asked to teach English as a foreign language. The gap year organisation i-to-i seemed ideal, offering all the experiences I wanted. I ended up teaching in Bangalore for just over two months and then went travelling afterwards, feeling much more confident and comfortable in another country, culture and lifestyle. Now Iím off to Liverpool University to read English Literature. The grades they asked for were higher than those I had attained, but I somehow managed to convince them I was committed to the subject -- perhaps because of my decision to spend my gap year teaching English.Ē

Freya Swain,18, has opted to take a two-year foundation degree at City University, in creative industries.

ďI did my A levels in theatre arts, media studies and English literature, and I really wanted to go to drama school, but I was told that they preferred it if you had done something first, so when I came across this course I decided to apply for it. I actually applied just before my A levels, but I only had to get 120 points, and since I was predicted to get either A or B for both theatre arts and media studies, it meant that while all my friends were running around and stressing out about Results Day, I knew I didnít have to worry. But it was a very last-minute thing. Itís a new course, and a friend came across it on the internet and told me about it. Iíve also applied to go into halls of residence. I had been planning a year out, and I wanted to get away from Lincolnshire, where I was at school, so it just appealed. Iím studying community TV and radio and I think on the course you get to do work experience at the Roundhouse, in Camden. My school was a grammar school, so I didnít get told about foundation degrees there. In fact I think a lot of people have an idea that foundation degrees are somehow worse than ordinary degrees, and not for people with high A level grades, but they are very practical and work-oriented, which is what appeals to me. I see it as something that will be good for my CV, and a platform from which I can go on and apply to drama school. Although with this course, you can also go on for another year, if you want, and boot it up to a full degree, so thatís another reason why itís good to do.Ē