A-level results: What to do if you don’t make the grade

PUBLISHED: 16:53 12 August 2019

Students celebrate exam results at Ormiston Denes Academy in 2018. With A-level results day around the corner we look at the options available for post-18 study. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Students celebrate exam results at Ormiston Denes Academy in 2018. With A-level results day around the corner we look at the options available for post-18 study. Picture: Ella Wilkinson


With A-Level results day on the horizon, what will happen, should the worst happen?

A-level results day stands out in the memories of all those who have experienced it - be it for good or bad reasons.

Today, with university fees still at more than £9,000 a year, young people may want to carefully consider all of their options before signing up to a three-year degree.

So what are the different options?


If you have A-levels you may wish to consider either a higher or degree apprenticeship. A Higher Apprenticeship takes one to five years to complete, whereas a Degree Apprenticeship, which allows students to achieve a full bachelor's or master's degree can typically take three to six years to complete. Both qualifications include part time study at either college or university.

Some providers have rebranded their higher apprenticeships as school leaver programmes. They tend to be offered by large companies in areas such as accountancy and finance, engineering, retail, hospitality and tourism and IT and provide the opportunity to work towards a professional qualification whilst gaining practical experience and a wage.

You can visit your local college's website to see what apprenticeships they offer.

Become an entrepreneur

This is becoming an increasing reality for many young people, who are setting up businesses from their bedrooms. At the end of 2018, 450,000 16 to 24-year-olds were running small businesses in the UK.

Government-backed start-up loans are available for those aged 18 or older and come with 12 months of free mentoring.

Foundation Year

If you didn't get the grades you were hoping for, consider a different tack. Foundation year courses prepare students for an undergraduate degree and act as a 'bolt-on' for a degree. They are not the same as a foundation degree; they are designed to give people access onto a degree course, whereas a foundation degree is a standalone qualification.

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Ella Depledge applied to study social work at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in 2018, but entered university clearing after falling slightly short of her grades. She switched to intercultural communications with business management, which included a foundation year, as the grade requirements were lower.

Ella, 19, from south east London, said: "My main advice for anybody getting their results this year is not to stress because there are always other ways to still go to university even if that isn't the way you planned."

Further Education

Local colleges offer a number of vocational courses, which could act as a first rung on the ladder towards higher education or employment. Most offer vocational courses, such as City and Guilds and BTEC qualifications.

Get a job

Earning a wage may be an appealing option. It could be that a part-time or holiday job becomes permanent. Alternatively young people can use the government webpage Find a Job or directly contact prospective employers. Job Centre Plus offer careers advice specifically tailored to the under 20s.


A traineeship may be a good option for those aged between 16 and 24 who are qualified below level three (i.e. do not have A-levels) and/or are unemployed or have little work experience.

It is an education and training programme designed to prepare young people for their future career. They last a maximum of six months and include work preparation training, a work-experience placement and English and maths support, if required.

At the end of the traineeship, each young person is guaranteed a job interview, if a role becomes available, or an exit interview with meaningful written feedback.


Volunteering can provide young people with the opportunity to network and gain valuable skills and experience to add to their CVs. There are national and international volunteering programmes, or individuals can contact the organisations that appeal to them to see if they have any suitable vacancies.

Whatever results day may bring, remember that if things do not go to plan, there are always other options and a range of support out there.

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