From education to employment

What to do when plan A isn’t an option – two careers officers share their advice

Clare Townsend, a careers coach for 3D Coaching Ltd, shares her experience

As the A level results date approaches, it is natural that some people will feel excitement, others apprehension and, a few, real anxiety. This is entirely normal and unsurprising when so much hard work and energy has gone into these final assessments. But what happens when things don’t work out and you need to find an alternative to plan A?

Figuring out what you want

In my experience as a careers adviser, many students approach this by exploring frantically all the available options, before doing the important task of thinking about what is really wanted and needed in this next step. Identifying this, ideally with the support of those close to you, makes reaching a decision less daunting. And it may reveal new options not yet considered. I have seen students in the post results period who, by thinking afresh, have taken totally different, yet well-chosen paths.

Test-driving the options

If the university route is still the one for you but you are concerned you may need to go through clearing, here are some tips:

  • take a look at the UCAS video
  • there is also trusted information on the process at Which University
  • your school or college will have people around who really understand the process and can help, so seek them out
  • when calling universities, stay calm and have the course details to hand, along with a copy of your original application and personal statement
  • most universities have clearing open days to help with the decision-making process
  • many offer Foundation years, meaning you might still be able go to the university you chose, but will spend an extra year consolidating your learning before starting undergraduate life

If you are now considering heading into an apprenticeship or straight to work:

If you would like to boost your qualifications and skills:

  • speak with your local FE College about the options available
  • taking a year out can be a good choice if you want longer to consider your options and boost your skills
  • use the time well and consider gaining some work experience

As a final thought, I have heard many people tell me that an unplanned – and perhaps unwelcome – change in direction in their career ultimately brought them to a place that actually suited them better. The plan B actually turned out to be the plan A*.

Navigating clearing in six easy steps

Eleanor Fox, Careers Officer at Bedford Girls’ School, gives her advice

Results day arrives and you haven’t done as well as you hoped. The first thing to remember is Do Not Panic. You will know you are in Clearing if UCAS Track says ‘You are in Clearing’ or ‘Clearing has started’. If it doesn’t, then Track might just be waiting for your results to update. Get in touch with your preferred university, as they may still offer you a place. If not, here are some helpful steps you could follow:

  1. Take a look at other universities in your original five and see what they have to offer. You liked them enough to choose them first time round, so it makes sense to revisit them now
  2. Use the UCAS search tool and remember that things change rapidly, so keep refreshing to see all the opportunities
  3. Remember to be flexible. Look at similar courses, joint honours and foundation degree options as well as your original degree course choice
  4. Once you’ve found a course you like with availability, call the university direct. Make sure you have your Clearing number (get this from Track), your personal ID (so they can view your application) and re-read your personal statement to remind yourself just how good you are!
  5. Speak to as many universities as you like before deciding which offer to accept. If possible, visit first – or take a virtual tour instead
  6. Once you’ve made your choice, add it into Track. This means you are definitely accepting the offer and it will show up as an acceptance on your Choices page

Of course, you might alternatively decide that you want to take a break and reapply next year with your results in hand, or that you would like to re-take a subject. If so, then a gap year is a great idea. Getting some life experience will enhance any future application and give you the chance to stop and reflect before jumping in to the next stage of your life.

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