Results day: What happens if you don’t get your first choice?

14 Aug 2019
By Jodie T., Student at University of Edinburgh

The summer before uni is super exciting, but the wait for your exam results can be nerve-wracking. You did your best, but now it’s out of your hands, and you must wait months to find out your grades, and - more importantly - whether you made it to your first choice uni.

The not knowing is scary, but preparing for what might happen can help. I’ll answer some questions about results day based on my own experience back in 2016, to help you with any decisions you have to make on results day.

I didn’t get into my first choice uni, what do I do?

First off, don’t panic. Take it from me, it’s disheartening to see your friends celebrating when your first choice won’t accept you. But it’s not the end of the road. This is why you have an insurance choice after all.

But what if my insurance choice isn’t an option?

You might find yourself with an offer from your insurance choice, but feeling like you don’t actually want to go. Technically, you are contractually obliged to accept this offer, but it is likely that your university will let you out of this contract if you ask.

This puts you in the same position as those who are rejected from their insurance choice, and those who didn’t put an insurance choice in the first place. But luckily, there’s Clearing!

What’s it like to apply through Clearing?

Honestly? Stressful. After an agonising few hours of waiting for a final decision from my first choice uni (Edinburgh) I found out I had been rejected.

I was heartbroken, but also desperate to go to uni, so my results day involved lots of desperate phone calls to various universities. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly and accommodating. The phone operators know it’s a stressful time, and they want to help. Although you may have been warned about busy phone lines and long waits, I found the whole process surprisingly efficient. In just a couple of hours, I called about five universities and got offers from most of them.

Remember, when unis offer you a place through Clearing, the verbal offer is usually valid for 24 hours. This is good, because you don’t have to jump at the first place that will accept you. It’s also good to remember that applying through Clearing is really common: over 31% of students starting in 2018 got accepted through Clearing. So resist the idea that rejection equals failure.

Should I take a gap year?

I think gap years are hugely underrated. I was too hung up on not getting into Edinburgh to accept an offer anywhere else, so I rejected all of my Clearing offers and took up my summer job full-time for the next year. Although my gap year was completely unintentional, it really worked out for the best.

There’s a few obvious bonuses to taking a gap year. I particularly enjoyed having a decent income and being lucky enough to work with some fantastic people, but simply taking a break from studying can be really refreshing. I didn’t think I needed a break at the time, but now I’m going into third year, I feel that having that reprieve from sixth form stress has stopped me from burning out. I’d definitely recommend a gap year if you’ve found A Levels or Highers particularly stressful.

Also, don’t worry that you’ll be behind everyone else. At uni, and especially in private halls, there’s a real mix of ages. So going into first year at 19, 20, or even older will not make you stand out.

Should I get my exams remarked?

Even if it looks like you’re a way off the grade boundary, speak to staff at your college and get their advice.

I got a B in Sociology, and I thought I was too far away from the grade boundary to bother with a remark. I was actually worried they’d marked me too generously, and my mark would go down to a C. Because of this, I didn’t look into remarks for a good few weeks after results day.

What a mistake! I eventually got both of my Sociology exams remarked, which pushed my overall grade from a B to an A, meaning I met my original offer from Edinburgh. When I called them up to explain, they offered me a place for the next academic year. If I’d asked for a remark sooner, I could’ve been admitted straight after sixth form. So don’t hesitate to ask your teachers for advice.

How can I prepare for results day?

As the old saying goes: prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Research other universities that you may want to apply to, and have their phone numbers to hand just in case you need them on results day.

It’s also nice to plan an event for the evening of results day, either to celebrate or commiserate. Make a playlist for pre-drinks and plan an outfit - it will at least take your mind off things for a while!

What else can I do?

Rest assured that you’ve done all you can to get the best grades possible. Hopefully you’ll get into your first choice, but it’s important to remember that there’s many other routes you can take that will be just as fulfilling and exciting.

So whether you get the results you were hoping for or you don’t, here’s hoping you have a happy and successful results day!

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I'm a second-year undergraduate psychology student at the University of Edinburgh, and I have lived with Unite Students since first year. I enjoy writing, poached eggs, and driving around Edinburgh. I dislike olives, exams and TV shows about antiques. at University of Edinburgh