Thanks for your time, Maz! Big question first up: what are my options if I don't get the results I need to get into university? 

Firstly, don't panic! Contact your firm and insurance choices first of all, as they may still accept you. 

If they don't, you can check the UCAS website for a list of clearing vacancies. You may want to start by checking your subject to see what universities have clearing spaces. Make a list of clearing options and take down their hotline number. 

If you don't get any offers through clearing, or you're not happy with those options, you can consider the following...

  • Doing a degree in a different subject
  • A joint or combined degree (rather than a single honours degree)
  • An extended degree - this is a four-year degree with a year's foundation course, and they tend to ask for slightly lower entry requirements than a three-year course
  • A two-year HND or Foundation degree - these courses are equivalent to the first and second year of university. They tend to be vocational and work-related (subjects like IT or business, for example) and they ask for slightly lower requirements. You can top them up to degree level after the two years. 

Other options: 

  • If you've already studied A Levels and not got the grades you wanted, you may want to find a college that offers a one year intensive A Level course.
  • You could also talk to your school about retakes - every school is different but it's always worth asking. 
  • Consider another Level 3 course - if A Levels weren't really your thing, you may want to consider something like a BTEC, or if you're 19 or over you may want to consider an access course. That's basically a year's course that would get you into university, equivalent to A Levels.
  • Another option that often isn't spoken about - you might want to consider employment with training. That means you'd be working, you may obtain a Level 3 qualification on the job (eg an AAT accounting qualification, or a Level 3 Health and Social Care). Some universities may accept those qualifications. 
  • Higher level or degree apprenticeships are another option where you can do a qualification on the job. 
  • And if you're a bit fed up with education, particularly if you've been through treatment, consider a gap year - it gives you the chance to buy some extra time, have a rest and consider your options. 

How does university clearing work exactly?

Students only enter clearing if: 

  • You're not accepted through your firm or insurance choices - if this happens, you'll automatically go into clearing. 
  • Some students are in clearing because they haven't been made any offers. 
  • Other people go into clearing because they've made a late application (after 30th June). 
  • For 2019, there's a 'self-release' option - if you already hold an offer but don't want to take it up, this allows you to release yourself into clearing. Contact the clearing helpline for guidance on this new feature. 

How do I arrange to resit my exams? 

Every school, college or sixth form is different - my advice is to discuss this with your school or college and see if it's possible. If you're an independent or self-taught student, you may want to contact your exam board for advice. 

A Level retakes will normally take place the academic year after. You may want to consider going elsewhere, such as a one-year intensive A Level course at a college - it's a new environment and a new beginning. 

Also, don't worry about being older at the start of your degree course as there are students of all ages at university. See it as a new beginning, not a step back! 

What if I've just done GCSEs and my results aren't what I wanted? 

Perhaps have a chat with your teacher or head of Year 11 to discuss your options. If you don't want to go back to school, some colleges may offer a GCSE retake package. Maths and English Language GCSEs are offered by most colleges and some sixth forms - these may be resat in November. 

Some students may study a Level 2 course alongside Maths and English Language GCSE, and then progress onto a Level 3 course a year later, i.e. a BTEC Extended Diploam which can get you into university. 

You may still be able to move on to A Levels and retake Maths and English GCSEs alongside. There are specific entry requirements for A Levels, but it's worth negotiating particularly if you've been ill or taken time out of school. 

Do I have to declare if I've taken a resit? 

When you apply through UCAS, you often have to put in the date that you've taken or will take your exams. Seek advice from your school. If you're concerned about how it looks on your record, remember your teacher can always mention the reasons for your resit in the reference for university or send an email to the admissions tutor explaining your situation. Particularly if you've had treatment, it's a very valid reason. 

Can I appeal my results? 

This is something you'd arrange with your school or college, or contact the exam board if you're an independent or self-taught student. 

What are extenuating circumstances and how do I know if I qualify? 

Extenuating circumstances are when situations occur that are beyond your control and put you at a disdvantage at the time of your exam. Your school or college should notify the exam boards of your situation, and they'll be able to advise on the process. 

A useful website is JCQ - there's a section on there about access arrangements and special consideration.

Can I get extra time in exams or deadline extensions on coursework?

Again, this is something you'd arrange with your school or college, or contact the exam board directly if you're an independent or self-taught student.

How should I explain gaps in my studies or employment if I’ve had cancer?

That’s a good question. It’s a personal choice, but remember that your reason is a valid one.

Some students may include their experience in a personal statement or send the admissions tutor an email to explain. You could ask your referee to contact your university of choice to explain your situation or include this in their reference.

If you’re going into employment, it might be a good idea to talk to your head of sixth form or a teacher that you trust. They can explain your situation on your behalf. And remember,  universities and employers should be supportive of your situation.

During your studies, if you’re concerned about your illness or the effect it has on you, universities will usually have wellbeing officers, counsellors and other support services available. 

Again, it’s a personal choice but I’d advise that you explain your situation so they can put in adjustments for you – and also if you have to take time off for treatment or appointments, they’re in the picture and can support you.

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

Everybody assumes university means 3 years of full-time study – but you can consider a part-time degree course. 

For example, in London we’ve got Birkbeck University that has part-time evening courses over 4 years, or the Open University that has courses you can study over a longer time. That allows you more flexibility and might be easier to manage. 

You can also check if your university of choice has a distance learning option.

And some universities offer courses with a January start date if you’ve had treatment and need a little bit of time out.

Finally – don’t panic or stress, it’s not worth it! There’s a way around everything, put your own wellbeing first. And people are sympathetic and understanding – be honest about your situation and don’t worry.

Useful websites

Other information

For alternative education options up to GCSE, try NT&AS

Contact the UCAS exam results helpline on 0808 100 8000 or the National Careers Service helpline on 0800 100 900

The SQA Candidate Advice line is open between Tuesday 6 and Friday 9 August on 0345 279 1000. You can also email