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What to do if your A-level grades leave you uncertain about your next step

Calls being taken on A-level results day about `clearing'. Picture by Danny Lawson/PA Wire

SIXTH formers across Northern Ireland will this week learn if they have scored the A-level grades they need to secure a university place.

For some, there will be delight and celebration, but for others will be anxious and uncertain.

Here is some advice for students who have missed their required grades, those who have done better than expected, and those who are unsure what their next move should be.

:: My grades are lower than I expected, what shall I do?

Best thing to do in this situation is to not panic, and consider your options. You should try contacting your chosen university first to see if they will still accept you, this may still be a possibility, especially if you have only dropped by one grade for example.

Clearing, the annual process which matches students with courses that has available places, is also an option.

The process has changed in recent years, particularly since the cap on numbers was lifted allowing universities to recruit as many students as they like, and there is expected to be a wide variety of courses available at a range of universities this year - including at leading, selective institutions.

The Ucas website is one of the key places to go for information about available courses.

:: I've got higher grades than I expected and I want to change my course/uni, what should I do?

There is a process called "adjustment" which allows students who do better than expected to "trade up" to a different course or university. Again, students can find out about courses through the Ucas website or by contacting individual universities.

Some institutions are actively encouraging students who are likely to do better than they first thought to get in touch with them about available courses.

:: What do I do if I have changed my mind about my chosen course or university?

The first thing to think about is why you have changed your mind. What is making you review the options? And, actually, are there even more options to look at while you are in this state of indecision that might be even more suitable.

Annie Dobson, a careers adviser with the British government's exam results helpline suggested that this was a good time to take a step back and ask yourself `why you are considering changing your choice?'

"Try not to be swayed by the idea of going to what is considered a 'better' university," she said.

"Take stock and review the whole picture before jumping ship. If you're going to make the change ensure you get an offer not only verbally but also in email from the university you want to move to before they ask to be released from your existing offer."

:: How quickly do I need to choose a place in clearing, are the best ones going to go on the first day?

It is best not to "panic buy" courses and take your time to think about what you are signing up for, experts suggest.

Many places become available over the course of the few days after clearing so don't have what is known as fear of missing out or `fomo'. Students should think about what they want out of their course, and their life in general, rather than focusing on what they think they should be doing just because clearing has opened.

:: I've decided I want to take a gap year, is this a good idea and what should I do?

A gap year can be valuable experience for a lot of students, whether they spend time overseas or remain at home. Businesses are often looking for more than just a degree from graduates nowadays, and a gap year can be a chance to show off a different set of skills to both future employers and universities.

Exam results helpline careers adviser Iwan Williams said: "Alongside the break from education and the chance to travel, a gap year provides the chance to spend time on self-development and build confidence, ideally by participating in a range of activities like volunteering, working etc, and then take that leap the following year."

:: The exams results helpline number is 0808 100 8000

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