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 results can be nerve-wracking, especially this year, where everything looks a little different.

But the truth is, it’s out of your hands. After a long wait, it's time to find out your grades, and - more importantly - whether you made it to your first choice uni.

This can be a scary process, but preparing for what might happen can help. Here, I’ll answer some questions about results day based on my own experience, 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?

In ordinary times, I'd say that gap years are hugely underrated. Personally, 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.

Of course, the world looks really different this year because of coronavirus. Different countries are dealing with different levels of infections and are implementing measures at different times. This, combined with an unclear outlook, means that a gap year of travel looks like a challenging and unlikely thing.

Having said that, some countries are coping better than others, and you may be able to work or volunteer for a while in places like New Zealand. Just make sure you do your research first and check what the officials are allowing.

If you're considering taking a gap year to work, you've also got to think about the availability of jobs. Unemployment has been on the rise and competition is likely to be fierce. If you can get a job or onto a trainee scheme, the option of a gap year is more appealing, but you should do your research first.

Ultimately, it's a personal choice. If you don't feel like you're ready to go to university yet or you need a break, a gap year is still an option. Otherwise, it could be smart to get stuck into education while society resets itself.

Should I appeal my grades?

If you think your grades are significantly below what you and your teachers expected or they may have been affected by certain circumstances, speak to staff at your school or college and get their advice.

Appeals are slightly different to how they've been previously, simply because nobody sat exams this year, so it's not as easy as saying you're just a few marks off of the next grade up.

Having said that, it is still possible to appeal. Your school can submit an appeal on your behalf if they feel it's right, but they will have to provide evidence showing why they feel the grades should change.

Ultimately, if you're not happy, it's a case of speaking with your teachers about your options.

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 a good idea to keep in touch with friends so you can support each other before, during and after results day. A new perspective and friendly advice is invaluable in times like these.

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.