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What Happens If I Fail My A-Levels?

What Happens If I Fail My A-Levels?

Failed your A-Levels and need to plan your next steps? This article is a practical guide for students who have missed out on the grades they need for university.

Whether you’re still determined to get into your dream university or open to a new path entirely, we’ve got your back! Getting bad A-Level results can be very distressing, so we want to help make figuring out your next steps as easy as possible.

If you’re disappointed with your A-Level grades, here are five things you can do next, which we will guide you through in this article:

  1. Seek advice from your college of sixth form

  2. Retake your A-Levels

  3. Apply for clearing

  4. Consider other types of qualifications

  5. Research apprenticeships

Seek advice from your college or sixth form

If you’ve failed your A-Levels, or not achieved grades high enough to get you onto your chosen course at university, it can send you into panic mode.

A solid first step is to talk to a tutor, teacher, or career counsellor at your college. Failing your A-Levels can be very distressing - but you aren't the first student to receive low grades and you won't be the last.

Go and pick your results up in person

If you have already logged into UCAS and seen that you have been rejected for the courses you applied for, it can be tempting to stay in bed and not going to pick up your grades.

We know it can be so tough to be practical when the feelings of fear and disappointment are washing over you, but the first step to getting on the right path is to turn up for your results and start accessing the support available to you.

Consider retaking your A-Levels

If you have only missed the grade on one or two of your subjects, retaking might be your best option. We've gathered lots of useful information on how to resit A-Levels, to make it as stress-free as possible.

College students learning at their desks

How much do A-Level resits cost?

There are a number of different routes you can choose to take when it comes to A-Level resits, which means that the cost can vary wildly.

The three main routes you can take are:

  • Return to study at your original school or college

  • Study at an alternative college

  • Study online

If you're hoping you can resit your A-Levels without going back to school, you're in luck! However, unlike resitting your GCSEs which are usually free, resitting your A-Levels comes with a cost. Regardless of where you study, there will be two fees to pay: the course fee and the examination fee.

Exam fees average between £100-£200, whereas course fees can be in the thousands.

Can I go back to resit my A-Levels at college for free?

Some colleges have been known to accept learners back to restudy their failed subject without paying a fee. This isn’t always the case though, so you will need to check with your college as soon as possible.

When can I resit my A-Levels?

A-Level resits only take place once a year - at the same time as the general A-Level exams. There is no option to resit them any sooner, which means that you would need to delay your entry to university by a year if you choose this route.

How will resitting my A-Levels affect my uni application?

You may be wondering whether resitting your A-Levels will make you look bad to your chosen university. The answer is not necessarily! Since you will have to apply again, this will mean a new personal statement, which is a great way for you to communicate to the university your reasons for choosing this route - make sure you get across your desire to achieve your goals and your ability to persevere and find your way around obstacles.

Is it worth resitting my A-Levels?

If you are determined to get onto the exact course you applied for at the exact university, resitting your A-Level exams may be the best way to get there.

If you make the decision to do this, you need to be prepared for a year of hard work and study. A-Levels are tough, and you won’t get the grades you need without putting in 100%. It’s a big commitment, and there are a lot of pros and cons to weigh up. Seeking advice from an expert could really help with this decision, which is why we recommend enlisting the help of an experienced tutor.

Young students opening their exam results on results day

Can I get my paper remarked instead?

If you have only missed the mark by one grade in one subject, it might be worth getting your paper remarked.

Applying for a remark can be a really good option if you left the exam feeling like you absolutely smashed it, and that the grade you received doesn’t reflect the work you put in. It could be as simple as an admin error with tallying up the marks, or having it reviewed by a different examiner might mean you gain a few marks in places where you lost them previously.

Many students have positive outcomes from having their paper remarked - we touched on some of these in our article helping students who fail their GCSEs.

However, you do have to take into account that having your paper remarked comes with a fee, and there is also a chance that you may receive a lower grade, however appealing A-Levels grades is probably a more common practice than you’d think.

What happens if I don't meet the entry requirements for university?

If you don't meet the grades of your conditional offer, you may not be automatically rejected from your course.

There are a number of other factors that the university will take into consideration, such as your personal statement, mitigating circumstances, or even socio-economic background.

Make sure you speak to the university before making any big decisions. Missing out on the minimum entry requirements for your university doesn't always mean you have lost your chance at a place.

Applying for clearing

Clearing. That one word can send a shudder down the spine of any university hopeful, but we’re here to tell you it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation!

Whilst no one wants to end up in a situation where they have to apply for clearing, it can actually open doors to new possibilities and opportunities that you may not have considered otherwise.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings." – Lao Tzu

What actually is clearing?

Clearing can actually be used in a variety of situations, it isn’t just for people who are left disappointed on results day. Clearing is an option for people who didn’t receive any conditional offers when they applied for uni, those whose circumstances have changed and need to switch universities, and students who have changed their mind about their original course.

To put it simply, clearing is a way for universities to boost the number of students on their courses, meaning you could nab a place at a discounted rate!

Do universities accept lower grades in clearing?

Clearing opens the door to many opportunities, as a lot of universities will accept students who didn’t quite reach the grade requirements for certain courses. This means that you may even get accepted to study at a university that you thought was out of your league!

The best thing to do is to ensure you are registered for clearing with UCAS so that you can get an idea of the options available.

Two young students working on a laptop and reading exam results

When does clearing open?

Contrary to popular belief, clearing doesn’t start and finish on exam results day. Clearing officially opened on the 5th of July and will run right through until the 17th of October. If you were thinking of appealing your grades, clearing will still be available as a Plan B if your appeal isn’t successful.

Should I try going through clearing?

So many students have a positive outcome with clearing. It is a very valuable option for students who didn’t get the A-Level grades they needed.

We spoke to Hanif Roslen, an entrepreneur in the environment sector, about his experience with using clearing:

“After failing my A-Levels, I was initially filled with a sense of despair and disappointment. However, I soon realised that it was not the end of the world. I decided to go through the clearing process and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Clearing granted me a second chance. It allowed me to reassess my career goals and what I truly wanted to study. I was able to explore different courses and universities that I had not previously considered. This process, albeit daunting at first, provided me with a broader perspective on my future possibilities.

I ended up enrolling in a course at a university that was not initially on my list. The course was more aligned with my interests and abilities than my initial choice. It was through this unexpected turn of events that I discovered my passion for environmental studies, which eventually led me to found ecosguide.com.

Failing my A-Levels and going through clearing was indeed a challenging experience, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone and opened doors I didn't even know existed. It taught me that failure is not a dead-end, but rather a detour to a potentially better path.”

Consider other qualifications

If you have failed your A-Levels or been rejected from your chosen university, you might have to take a step back and reassess your options. This might mean undertaking an additional qualification in order to get onto your course, or changing your path entirely and embarking on a new route of study.

There are lots of alternatives to A-Levels, but two choices you can consider are BTEC qualifications, or an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ).

What is an EPQ?

Good question! Many people have never heard of an EPQ, but it is actually a super interesting qualification.

An EPQ is worth up to 28 UCAS points/half an A-Level. Not only that, but if you are just short of the required grades but complete an EPQ, many universities will be prepared to accept it in lieu of the required grades as it shows your passion for and dedication to your chosen subject and university.

What does an EPQ involve?

A lot of work! EPQs aren’t for the faint of heart, as you can expect to spend up to 120 hours working on your project. The exciting part is that it is fully self directed - you can complete the project on anything you like, and will be marked on what you choose to create. In many cases this would be a 5,000 word essay, but for more practical topics this could be a website, music video, or even a costume.

Why do an EPQ?

An EPQ can be brilliant practice for university. It means you have to plan your own time and do your own research, similar to many subjects at uni. It can also help you get stuck back into learning after the disappointment of being rejected from university, and will give you something to focus on.

Surprisingly, even Oxbridge level universities value the EPQ. Cambridge’s entry requirements page says: “We welcome the EPQ and would encourage applicants to take one as it will help to develop independent study and research skills valuable for higher education.”

The main drawback of the EPQ is that it is usually taken during A-Levels as opposed to after, however you can speak with your college for more information.

What is a BTEC qualification?

BTEC qualifications tend to be more hands-on than traditional study routes like A-Levels. They are great for students who have a firm idea of the career they want. Most colleges offer BTECs and they are often in subjects such as accounting, animal care, IT and hospitality.

These courses combine practical skills with theory-based learning, and are great for those who don’t excel in a typical classroom environment or who may have failed their A-Levels.

Can I get into uni without A-Levels?

Many students in your shoes wonder whether you can go to uni without A-Levels. The short answer is yes! Most universities also accept BTEC qualifications as part of their entry requirements, however in some cases they will require at least one A-Level too - which is great if you already have this!

What else can I do with a BTEC qualification?

Having a BTEC qualification can open up the door straight into employment without having to undertake any further study. Many employers are looking for candidates with a BTEC qualification, and may even support you through further study if needed.

How much does a BTEC qualification cost?

If you’re undertaking a BTEC qualification straight out of school, then it will generally be free.

The bad news is that if you’re taking one after you’ve already completed your A-Levels, you will probably have to pay.

This is because most college courses are only funded if the student does not already hold a level 3 qualification, such as an A-Level.

Some courses do have funding for applicants who are on a low wage, so this could always be an option further down the line. Alternatively, you can apply for an Advanced Learner Loan that may be able to help towards the cost of the course.

This often differs by institution so ensure you check with your local college. A level 2 course will often cost much less than a level 3 or 4 course, with the latter averaging at £2,000+ for the year.

Look into apprenticeships

University isn’t the be all and end all. If you failed your A-Levels because you’re simply not good at taking tests, then there are other routes into a career you’ll love. The best part? You’ll start making money from day one!

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship gives you the chance to earn whilst you learn. Not only do you get to choose the type of qualification you will obtain the apprenticeship in, you also get to choose the business you will work for. This will give you a real insight into your chosen career path, and may even get your foot in the door of the company that you could be working for indefinitely.

How does an apprenticeship work?

An apprenticeship combines work with classroom-based learning. An apprentice will spend approximately 80% of their time working for a business, and the other 20% learning with a college or university. They will have to submit papers and receive grades, but are much less reliant on exams than A-Levels.

Young apprentice learning joinery in a workshop from an older colleague

Is an apprenticeship worth it?

Marketing and SEO Specialist Tom Williams thinks so! He got in touch to tell us his story, which started with him dropping out of A-Levels in 2010 in favour of an apprenticeship:

“I got an apprenticeship with a Digital Marketing company in Lichfield called ClickThrough Marketing and they took me on after my apprenticeship ended. I got a job as Marketing Executive and slowly worked my way through the company over the 10 years I was there, eventually reaching the position of Director of SEO & Content. I was heading up a team of roughly 13 people and overseeing delivery of our work to a large range of brands.

I've then moved to various in-house roles working at Lounge Underwear for nearly a year. I am now working with a business called National Education Group as the SEO Manager.

I am so glad I chose the apprenticeship route as it’s given me a lifelong career where I am now on a very good salary!”

You can always take a gap year

There is absolutely no obligation to go to university straight after A-Levels. If you're wondering what to do after A-Levels, a gap year might give you the time you need to choose your next steps.

Plus you can always do some travelling or get a job and save up some money ready for uni!

You failed your A-Levels - what’s next?

Hopefully this article has given you some practical steps you can take next. All is not lost, and there’s no reason you still can’t get where you want to be. If you want further help and advice from an expert, consider booking a session with one of our experienced tutors.

If you decide university just isn’t the right option for you, check out our article full of alternatives to university, many which you may not have considered!

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Kirstan N

Kirstan N

10th Jul 2023