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Your university back-up plan

Worst case scenario: you've missed out on your chosen university courses and there's nothing suitable in Clearing. What now? Here’s how to create your own back-up plan…

Clearing isn't about snatching any vaguely suitable course that has a vacancy on the off chance that it will work out (or allow you to switch it's very unlikely that will work). The real alternatives to mix and match are below.

1. Back to the classroom

a) Reapply next year: you may have to aim slightly lower than for your original choices. And yes, you will have to go through the Ucas process again, complete with a new personal statement. That statement is crucial because it needs to address the reasons why things didn’t work out and what you've learned from the experience, how you intend to spend the next year (and how that will benefit both them and you), plus what you'll bring in terms of experience, knowledge and maturity.
b) Resit your exams: in our recent survey, 72% of applicants said they would consider retaking exams in order to get into their first choice uni the following year if things didn't work out this year. Some unis will ask for higher grades if it’s second time around and others may not accept retakes  check in advance.
  • When can you retake? Not all exam boards offer retakes in all subjects. At worst, it might be next summer before you can take it again.
  • Where can you retake? Will your old school / college have you back or should you take it somewhere else (another school / college / tutorial college / self-taught?). Enrolment dates are generally ahead of the actual start of term, so you might have only a week or so to decide.
  • What can you retake? Will the same syllabus be on offer with your old exam board or another awarding body? Are one-year courses available? Should you try to pick up a new subject? The answer to all these questions are 'not always' - check with your tutors.  

c) Apply to a uni abroad: some European unis offering English-speaking courses could still have vacancies for the upcoming year. There are all sorts of issues to consider (distance from home, finances, accommodation and surviving and thriving in a country where the day to day language is not your native tongue) so think this through carefully.

2. The world of work

Three quarters of applicants in our survey said they would take a year out and get some work experience if they didn't get into their first or insurance choice universities. Market this experience on your Ucas form to raise your credibility as a hard worker and demonstrate your skills as a team player or good communicator.

a) Take a temporary and / or part- time job: this might be a stop gap solution to get you some cash and enable you to take stock of your situation, perhaps before re-applying. Casual work – in a bar, factory, café, store, office – is usually easier to find than more permanent possibilities. Note: Christmas starts in October in the retail world, with shops recruiting extra staff in September.
b) Look for more permanent work: in an ideal world, any job, short- or long-term, would mesh with your professional ambitions. You might even decide to put uni on hold and go for an apprenticeship or traineeship in business, science, technology or other vocational areas: this would give you the best of both worlds – a salary and a recognised qualification, maybe even a degree. Many major firms offer these to 18-year-olds. Nearly half (47%) of applicants we spoke to in our survey said they would consider alternatives to university such as school leaver schemes or apprenticeships.

Whatever the employment situation where you live, think laterally. If you’re aiming at the health care sector, all kinds of experience in this area could nudge you in the right direction (Hospital porter? Ward cleaner?). Budding business people will get an insight into how the commercial world operates in any role in any enterprise. It’s not about what you do, it’s what you learn and observe while you’re doing it.

3. Taking a gap year 

a) Extra study: part time study or short courses can increase your skillset and add to your marketability. Examples? Building up IT knowledge at a local college, getting to grips with First Aid at St John’s Ambulance or taking a short online course in a subject you're interested in.

b) Work experience: work placements are likely to be unpaid and self generated (by making contact with firms where you would like to work or getting family and friends to do so). So don’t be a shrinking violet  make a direct approach. Paid internships for teenagers do exist, but are harder to find.

c) Volunteering: you'll be helping the wider community and have something to talk about in your Ucas application, particularly if your good work is connected to your course choice. Volunteering needn’t take up more than a few hours a week, so it shouldn’t interfere with any work or studies.

d) Go travelling: 55% of applicants we spoke to said they'd consider a year out travelling if their university plans didn't work out. Whether you take a whole twelve months out or just some portion of that time, it should ideally be a combination of enlightenment, education, enjoyment and experience. Earning and learning could add another dimension to your adventures, as could voluntary work.


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