Careers Adviser Gill Sharp looks at how A Level Results Day this year will probably be different to usual, and offers top tips and advice for teachers and tutors getting ready to support students through this pressured time.


There are changes afoot, the first being that there will be a single results day for the entire UK.  This will allow students more time to get organised but could put extra pressure on places.

10th August will be a day of mixed emotions, for staff, students, parents and carers. Everyone may be more confused and stressed than usual, because of 2020’s results experience and the way that education has been disrupted this academic year.

Adviser Tracy Bennett, of Uxbridge College’s careers team acknowledges that “it’s been a turbulent year”.

This is echoed by East Midlands sixth-former Sarah. She and her peers are weary after a ‘dreadful’ time. Despite an unconditional offer, she is unhappy how seven years of hard work has panned out. “We’ve missed the full experience and it’s the biggest disappointment possible.” Her class felt abandoned by teachers and mourn the lack of classroom discussion, oral practice in languages, hands-on work in scientific and creative subjects.

Factor this disillusionment into how you deal with any fallout from the results.

Aim to support each student whether they have done better or worse than expected or are now rethinking their future.

Top tips for teachers and tutors

  1. Know your stuff.
    You will be familiar with a lot, especially if you’re a results day veteran, but be ready to find out about changes to the system. UCAS runs the results and admissions service: its website is the best source of information.
  2. Don’t panic!
    And don’t let your students panic when making difficult decisions within limited timescales.
    Tracy Bennett comments “In these unprecedented times, we advise students to have a Plan A, B and C. If they get the grades, we wish them well on their journey. If results are unexpected, we suggest taking time to reflect and reassess options, avoiding rash decisions.”
  3. Look after yourselves.
    It’s always a long day for everyone.

Ready for results

Encourage students to reach school/college early, with access to their UCAS ID, password, personal statement, etc. And a charged-up mobile phone!

Student Sarah believes that there will be little buzz: “The excitement is lacking. Most people know what their results will be, and just want some stability.”

On the day

Universities receive results in advance so UCAS will update each candidate’s Track system by 8.30 am: students may know whether they have a university place without receiving their grades which may cause confusion. Whatever they’ve achieved, they might be unsure what comes next.

Here are some common scenarios and responses:

Q I’ve got my results, my place has been confirmed, what now?

A Well done! The university will be in touch about next steps.


Q My results meet the conditions of my offer, but Track doesn’t show my confirmed place

A Patience! Keep checking. Sometimes there is a delay before universities pass data to UCAS. Wait for two hours, then phone (lines will be busy!)


Q I missed my grades, but have a place on the course I applied for

A Congratulations! The university will take you, even with slightly lower grades.


Q I have a place, but I’ve changed my mind

A If you’re absolutely certain, you can decline your firm place.

Think carefully: after hitting ‘Decline’ there’s no going back. Look for another course in Clearing or contact your insurance offer and ask them to accept you. Be quick, or it could be snapped up.


Q I don’t know if I want to go to university now

A Sarah thinks that this may be a common outcome, with students disaffected or uncertain. They may want employment or a gap year.

Careers adviser Tracy stresses “If students decide to take a gap year, they should ‘make it count’, do something worthwhile.”


Q What will my university experience be like?

A Again according to Sarah, this is causing concern. Some universities promise business as usual, others offer a hybrid experience (in class AND online), a few still espouse remote learning en masse. Make sure your students know what is happening at their institution, that their needs will be met and that they will receive value for money.


Q I didn’t get my grades. The place offered is different from my original application

A This is a changed course offer – a different subject, start date or entry point (e.g. foundation year). You have a few days to accept. If you decline, go through Clearing.


Q My grades are better than expected

A Excellent! Either accept your first choice offer or see whether those grades could lead to a different course.

Register with Adjustment, keeping your confirmed place safe, while researching alternatives and contacting admissions staff. You have five days to decide whether to ‘trade up’ or stick with your original plan. Each year comparatively low numbers of students make a change. Sarah’s remarks about ‘stability’ mean there may be even fewer now.


Q Track says I’m in Clearing. What does this mean?

A You’ve not been accepted onto a course, so can use Clearing to search and apply for unfilled places.
Clearing Plus pairs up students with potentially appropriate vacancies through ‘View Matches’ on Track.

Do note that:

  • you don’t need to accept these ideas
  • you can select only five matches at any one time.


How does Clearing work?

Each year thousands of places are available. Students can search any university or subject, not just those on their original application. Once they find a suitable course(s) they should phone the university’s Clearing line (which will be red hot). They may be accepted straight away or have a ‘mini-interview’.

Courteney Sheppard of UCAS says this may now take place by online form or webchat, not phone. He advises: “Be prepared, rather than thinking on your feet. Why are you choosing this course? Why are you a good fit?”

Clearing tips

  • Use UCAS’s list of Clearing places. Unlike information in newspapers, this is regularly updated. While places go quickly, new vacancies are constantly added.
  • Original UCAS personal statements can’t be changed. Students applying for something different from their original choice could send a revised statement.
  • Courteney suggests all students should make contingency plans before Results Day, backed by research and relevant contact details. If that’s impossible, take time on 10th August to put this together, rather than what he calls “making choices in the heat of the moment.”
  • Students may verbally accept multiple offers but only enter one choice onto Track.
  • Clearing gives students a few days to reply to an offer, normally after visiting the university or taking a virtual tour.

Hint: in Clearing or Adjustment check accommodation availability. This can be a dealbreaker!


Where can students get extra help?

0371 468 0 468
UCAS will run its usual helpline and is delivering events on social media before and during the results period.

0800 100 900
The National Careers Service helpline is available daily, including weekends, 9th – 20th August.


Reviews, appeals and resits

There will be a changed system this year.

Students cannot be deterred from appealing to their school/college.

Courtney Sheppard counsels teachers to “trust the evidence and the process. Have information to hand, for both parents and students, to show how the decision was reached.” (And remind them that results can go down as well as up!)

Timing and availability of resits varies with exam boards. Check their websites for up-to-date information.

You will be asked “If I get better grades through resitting, can I switch course/uni?”

Yes, but, after missing a term, this might not happen until September 2022, unless the change is to a very similar programme.


Alternatives to university

Those without a place or reconsidering their future need support, especially if they have no inkling what choices exist. If you work within an organisation where university is the traditional option, you too may be flummoxed. But, as Tracy Bennett says, “There are always alternatives,” including:

  • Re-applying for 2022 entry from 7th September.
  • Finding employment – perhaps relevant to degree or career choice or to get ready cash. Job prospects differ between sectors and geographical regions. Tracy: “If students decide to work, it can enhance their employability, with the added bonus of earning money for university.”
  • Looking at School Leaver Schemes and Apprenticeships – training towards a qualification, even a degree.
    Signpost students to the find an apprenticeship site.
    More information and vacancies can be found on the UCAS site and on Not Going to Uni contains an overview of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in England which could be useful for the Celtic nations too.
  • Volunteering in a field relating to personal interests and/or potential degree courses: benefits can be claimed by those available for paid work.
  • Taking another, often free, Level 3 course at an FE college.


Not everyone goes straight from school to university. Time out may help decide whether (and why) they want to undertake higher education and reveal new opportunities and fresh perspectives.

Whatever your students decide, even if their experience is different, the upshot could well be positive!



Gill Sharp is an experienced careers writer and careers adviser, working mainly in higher education. She has twice updated this article originally written by Susanne Christian in 2019.