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.
The 9th of August in Scotland and the 18th of August elsewhere in the UK could be days of mixed emotions. Your aim will be to support students, so Samantha Sykes of UCAS urges you to “Look on Clearing as a fantastic opportunity… dynamic and full of potential”. She advocates looking in advance at https://www.ucas.com/clearing-launch and Five things on my mind for Confirmation and Clearing 2022 | Undergraduate | UCAS
Hint: The new UCAS Hub means students don’t need to remember multiple IDs. Viewing their application will display all necessary information, including a clearing number where relevant.
Effects of the pandemic
Adviser Tracy Bennett, of Uxbridge College’s careers team, acknowledges that many young people are entering uncharted waters. “It’s the first time they have needed to wait for a centralised results system.”
No yardstick means added uncertainty for learners like Hampshire A level student Katie, hoping to read Psychology at Swansea: “Last winter’s lockdown definitely disrupted our learning. We found paying attention really difficult at home, with so many distractions and no immediate repercussions. At the end of the year, the topics we had studied online were areas of least confidence for almost everyone.”
The exam experience
Adviser Tracy points out that “It’s a huge jump from GCSE to Level 3 qualifications and most students had no experience of formal examinations until this year.” Katie found this “daunting”. “I’d never had to remember that much information at once and had no idea if my revision techniques would be effective. We were unsure for a long time what exams would be like or whether we would have exams at all. Everyone was under high stress as teachers said mocks would count towards final grades. Some people struggled with the significance of the exams and still thought of them as mocks.”
Ready for results
Urge students to reach school/college early – with phones fully charged. Katie: “We are all nervous. We don’t know what to expect, and we are prepared to have no sleep the night before.”
Tips for teachers
- Know your stuff. Newbies familiarise yourselves with the system. Results day veterans remember to take on board changes: no Adjustment, no Track. The UCAS website is the best source of information for students especially https://www.ucas.com/clearing-launch.
Advisers should go to Supporting you through Confirmation and Clearing | Undergraduate, Conservatoires | UCAS
- Look after yourselves. It’s a long day for everyone.
- Factor in the impact of post-Covid student inexperience and disillusionment. Katie, for instance, feels disadvantaged by hard-pressed teachers prioritising Oxbridge/Russell group candidates.
- Don’t let your students panic when making difficult choices within limited timescales. Tracy Bennett comments “We advise students to have
- Plan A: if all’s good, just wish them well on their journey
- Plan B: fallback option
- Plan C: pause to reassess, maybe a gap year, avoiding rash decisions.”
Katie says “My back-up is my insurance choice, a much lower offer, and then Clearing. We plan on calling our Firm choices if we do not get the grades, to see if they will still accept us.” (A sensible ploy providing they can explain any exam glitches and show continued suitability for the course).
On the day
The UCAS Hub opens for students to access applications at 08.15, hence they may know whether they have a university place before receiving their grades. https://www.ucas.com/advisers/managing-applications/supporting-you-through-confirmation-and-clearing/confirmation-and-clearing-2022-key-dates
Whatever they’ve achieved, there will be questions…
Q I’ve got my results, my place is 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 the Hub doesn’t show my confirmed place
A Keep checking. There can be delays before universities pass data to UCAS. Wait two hours, then phone.
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’ve changed my mind
A If appropriate, quickly contact your Insurance offer before your place is snapped up. Otherwise research your options. If you still want to change, Decline My Place is for those who need to recalibrate. Press this button and there’s no going back: you are then in Clearing and searching for a new course.
Q I don’t know if I want to go to university now.
A The main alternatives are employment or a gap year. Careers expert 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 Some universities promise business as usual, others offer a hybrid experience (in class AND online), a few still espouse mostly remote learning. Ensure you find out what is happening at your institution, that it meets your needs and provides value for money.
Q I didn’t get my grades. The place offered is different from my original application.
A Changed course offer – a different subject, start date or entry point. You have a few days to accept or go through Clearing.
Q My application 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 and
- Clearing Plus which pairs students with potential vacancies. (You don’t need to accept these.) What is Clearing Plus? | Undergraduate | UCAS
Q My marks are better than expected.
A Excellent! You can accept your first choice offer or, with no guarantees, press “Decline” and enter Clearing/Clearing Plus to look for new opportunities.
How does Clearing work?
Each year thousands of places are available and constantly updated. Students can use the UCAS “Search” facility, to explore any university or subject, not just those on their original application. After finding a suitable course(s) they should phone the university’s Clearing line (which will be red hot). Courteney Sheppard of UCAS says they may be accepted straight away or have a mini interview by phone, online form or webchat. He says: “Be prepared, rather than thinking on your feet. Why are you choosing this course? Why are you a good fit?”
- Sam Sykes emphasises that Clearing is about informed choice. Students should focus on research and reach out to UCAS and to universities to ensure clarity before making decisions.
- Sam’s colleague Courteney recommends all students make contingency plans before Results Day, backed by research and relevant contact details. If that’s impossible, take time after receiving grades to collate this information, rather than “making choices in the heat of the moment.”
- Original UCAS personal statements can’t be changed. Students applying for something different could send a revised statement.
- Students may verbally accept multiple offers but enter only one choice onto the Hub.
- Clearing gives students a few days to reply to an offer, normally after a virtual or personal visit to the university.
Hint: in Clearing check accommodation availability. This can be a dealbreaker!
Where can students get extra help?
UCAS runs its usual helpline (0371 468 0 468) and has a range of support online and via social media during the summer.
The Scottish results helpline is 0808 100 8000, from the 9th of August at 8:00am.
The National Careers Service Exam Results Helpline runs from the 18th of August for three weeks (0800 100 900).
Reviews, appeals and resits
Students are entitled to appeal via school/college. Courtney Sheppard suggests teachers “trust the evidence and the process. Have information to hand, for both parents and students, to show how the decision was reached.”
Timing and availability of resits varies with exam boards. You will be asked “If I get better grades through resitting, can I switch course/uni?” Yes, but perhaps not until September 2023, unless switching to a similar programme.
Alternatives to university
Those without a place or reconsidering their future may have no inkling what else exists. You too may be flummoxed. But, as Tracy Bennett says, “There are always alternatives”, including:
- Re-applying for 2023 entry from this September.
- Finding short-term work – possibly relevant to degree or career plans. Job prospects differ between sectors and geographical regions, but Tracy emphasises: “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 https://www.gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship. More information and vacancies can be found on the UCAS site and on Not Going To Uni: Apprenticeships & Work Experience in the UK.
Hint: https://alanbullockcareers.com/blog/ contains an overview of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in England.
- Volunteering in a field relating to personal interests and/or further study: benefits can still be claimed by those available for paid work.
- Taking another, often free, Level 3 course at an FE college.
All the above may lead to fresh perspectives and choices.
Let Katie have the last word: “It is really important to have support for all students and to guide them towards what they are passionate about. Encouragement will always make a student feel confident about their future.”
Both Susanne and Gill are members of the Careers Writers Association https://www.parentalguidance.org.uk/find-a-careers-writer