Maz, a Careers Adviser at City, University of London

Results day is fast approaching and this year, GCSE, A Level, AS, Scottish National, Higher and Advanced Higher grades will be determined by ‘Teacher Assessed Grades’ instead of exams.

Disrupted education, as a result of the pandemic, has brought out many emotions in young people. It’s certainly been a challenge but even more so if you’ve been undergoing treatment for cancer.

Ahead of results day 2021, we caught up with Maz, Careers Adviser at City, University of London who gives advice to teenagers interested in attending university. She kindly gave up her time to share some advice and answer questions for young people awaiting their results.

I’ve applied to university. What can I do before results day to help me prepare?

It’s been a very challenging time during 2020 and 2021, so firstly, try not to be hard on yourself.

You should have already had conversations with your teachers about the kind of work they have submitted for you this year as evidence for your Teacher Assessed Grades.

If you’re applying to university and feeling a bit uncertain about your potential grades after having those conversations, it’s a good idea to consider a back-up plan ahead of results day.

Clearing is a system where universities fill up their vacant spaces. This might be something to explore with your teachers if you’re worried that your grades might not be what you need for your first plan.

Clearing is already open, so start checking the Clearing listings for alternative courses on the UCAS website so that you already have other options open to you if you don’t meet your Firm and Insurance offers.

When doing this, make a note of the course title, course code, required grades and the university Clearing hotline number. You may not need to use this option but doing this now might help you feel a bit more in control.

Who can enter Clearing?

You can enter Clearing if:

  • You’ve not been accepted by your Firm and Insurance choices.
  • You haven’t been made any university offers at all.
  • You’ve made a late university application (after 30 June).
  • You already hold an offer but don’t want to take it up. Here, you can self-release into Clearing but it’s a good idea to think carefully before doing so!

For more information on Clearing, check out the Complete University Guide.

Find out more about the new UCAS feature Clearing Plus.

And if your grades are better than expected and you’ve exceeded your offer, you’ve also got the UCAS Adjustment option too.

What can I do to feel less anxious before results day?

Feeling anxious is to be expected, but it can result in getting very little sleep the night before, so make sure you do something fun and try to be kind to yourself.

Also, consider if you would rather collect your results in person or wait until they’re posted to you. Or if you’re receiving treatment in hospital, isolating or recovering at home, try to arrange in advance for a family member to collect them for you.

You can also contact your school or college if you won’t be there in person, and ask which member of staff will be available that day so that you can discuss your options if things don’t go to plan – you may want to schedule a phone or video call for this.

What are my options if my grades are lower than my conditional offers for university?

Contact your Firm and Insurance choices initially to see if they’ll still accept your grades.

Check UCAS Track too, as you may have been offered an alternative course from those universities instead.

Can I appeal my exam results?

A Level, AS and GCSE results day are taking place earlier this year so that any appeals can be dealt with sooner rather than later.

You can arrange an appeal with your school or college in the first instance, particularly if a subject grade is essential to your chosen degree course.

However, it’s important to remember that an appeal may mean that your grade could remain the same, as well as having the potential to be marked up or down.

If you are making an appeal, make sure you tell your Firm and Insurance choices immediately and check that they will hold your place.

See further advice from UCAS.

For details about the appeals process, have a look at the Ofqual Student Guide 2021.

For further information about the Scottish system and for the appeals process, head to the SQA website.

What are my other university options if my grades stay the same or I choose not to appeal?

This is where you can refer to Clearing listings.

Make sure you have your grades, UCAS Clearing number (which you can find on Track), and some pen and paper ready for when you start contacting university Clearing hotlines.

When looking at Clearing listings, start by looking at your chosen subject of interest and if you don’t get any offers through this method, or you’re not happy with those options, consider studying the following:

  • A degree in a different subject.
  • A joint or combined degree (rather than a single honours degree).
  • An extended degree – a 4-year degree with a year’s foundation course, (entry requirements are lower than a 3-year degree).
  • A Higher National Diploma (HND) or Foundation degree – a 2-year course equivalent to the second year of university. These are usually offered in colleges, are vocational (i.e. offered in subjects like IT or Business etc.) but they ask for lower entry requirements. You can also top them up to degree level if you wish.

What are my other options if my grades are not enough for a university place?

You can talk to someone at your school/college about autumn resits.

Currently, according to the Ofqual Student Guide 2021, resit exams are going to be available in the autumn for A Levels, GCSEs and for some AS Level subjects (check with exam boards for this information).

If you’re a private candidate, you can find more advice from UCAS. If you’re studying another Level 3 course, it’s good to chat through your options with someone at your school.

If you’re a Scottish candidate, have a read of the WhatUni site for further information.

And if you’re retaking, you may wish to consider a gap year or look for a degree course at a university with a January start date (if retakes are successful before then). You may even feel that some extra time between studies is helpful for you, especially if you’ve faced treatment this year too.

Do I have to declare if I’ve taken a resit to universities?

When you apply to university through UCAS, you will select the date that your exam was taken or if it’s pending.

If you’re worried about how it looks on your record, remember that your teacher can always outline the reasons for your resit in a UCAS reference, or you can send an email to the university admissions tutor yourself explaining the situation, particularly if you’ve had treatment.

Going through cancer is a very valid reason for needing to resit an exam.

Are there any other options if my results didn’t go to plan?

  • Find a college that offers 1-year intensive A Level courses, which can be another good option if you want a fresh start.
  • Consider a vocational Level 3 course such as BTECs or T Levels if A Levels weren’t for you.
  • If you’re aged 19 or over, you can enrol on an Access course as an alternative to A Levels.
  • You could try employment with training. This involves working while studying and you may have the opportunity to get a Level 3 qualification on-the-job (e.g. an AAT Accounting qualification, or a Level 3 in Health and Social Care). Some universities may accept these qualifications once achieved.
  • Look for a Higher level or degree apprenticeship as another option where you can complete a qualification on the job.

How should I explain gaps in my studies to employers if I’ve had cancer?

If you’re applying for employment or an apprenticeship after your studies, it’s a good idea to talk to your head of sixth form or a teacher that you trust so that they can explain any gaps in your studies in a reference.

Remember that both training providers and employers should be supportive of your situation and can make adjustments for you.

I’m starting university this year – who can I contact there for support?

The best place to start is to contact your chosen university’s support services – you’ll find this on their website.

Universities have wellbeing officers, counsellors and other staff available for you to access, too.

It’s a personal choice as to what you disclose but it can be a good idea to explain your situation before starting university so that adjustments can be put in place for you.

Also, if you have to take time off for further treatment, appointments or you need to shield or isolate, they will be aware of your situation and can support you.

Any other useful university advice for young people going through cancer?

Everybody assumes university means three years of full-time study, but you can also consider a part-time degree course.

For example, Birkbeck, University of London has part-time evening courses over four years. Or you can try the Open University, which has courses you can study over a longer period of time. Distance learning courses are also available here and at various universities.

Finally, any advice for younger students with cancer who’ve just completed GCSEs considering university in the future?

Students who have studied GCSEs can also appeal their grades. Have a chat with your teacher or head of year to discuss this initially if you feel you need to do this. Remember that if you choose to appeal, grades can stay the same, be marked up or marked down.

If you’re considering university and want to study A Levels, there are specific GCSE entry requirements for this option. So if you’ve narrowly missed these required grades, it’s worth discussing this with someone at your school first, particularly if you’ve been ill or have taken time out for health reasons.

You can also take resit GCSE exams. According to the Ofqual Student Guide 2021 these are taking place in the autumn term (check with exam boards).

Maths and English Language GCSEs are particularly important for university as many ask for a minimum of grade 4 or 5, so make sure you resit these if you did not get the required grades for them. You may still be able to progress on to A Levels or a BTEC Extended Diploma whilst you retake them.

If you don’t want to go back to the same school and feel you’d like another shot at GCSEs, some Further Education or 6th Form colleges may offer a one-year retake package of GCSE subjects. Or you could study a BTEC Level 2 course alongside Maths and English Language GCSE in a Further Education College, and then progress onto a Level 3 course such as a BTEC Extended Diploma or T Level a year later, which can also get you into university.

If you’re living in Scotland, click here for further information on National 5 arrangements. You can also discuss options with your school or speak to someone from your local careers service.

Remember – there are many options to consider, whatever your situation. But it’s important to put your own wellbeing first.

For further information contact:

For help with the technicalities of UCAS contact their helpline on 0371 468 0468 

To discuss your results and options contact the Exam Results Helpline (ERH), 0800 100 900 

SQA Candidate Advice

The SQA candidate advice line: 0345 279 1000, open between Tuesday 6 and Friday 9 August. You can also email: customer@sqa.org.uk

Other useful websites (Please note: we don’t hold any responsibility for the content on other sites):

You can find discussions on things like extenuating circumstances on Student Room.