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Students hugging and celebrating their exam results.

Surviving A level Results Day: a guide for students

Results Day. Two words, a whole lot of dread. Perhaps you’re one of the thousands of students counting down the hours until they can refresh UCAS one more time, bringing an end to two months of exam purgatory. Or maybe you’re on prep lockdown, running through your exams in your head in an attempt to work out how well they went, but coming up with a different answer each time. 

None of us can overcome our anxiety completely. There’s no cure-all. Speaking from experience, though, one of the best coping strategies is to face the problem head on: plan, plan, plan. 

Step one is to know your enemy, so in this blog you’ll get the low-down on Results Day: what will happen when; which websites you should bookmark; and what options are available to you, no matter what happens. You can’t know your results ahead of time, but you can know the solutions to any problem that rears its ugly head.


When will results be released?

UCAS starts updating students’ records from 08:15 on Results Day, Thursday 18th August. The outcome of your application will be available on your online profile around this time.

What happens on Results Day?

Your UCAS profile is probably the first place you’ll check for your results. Once you log onto UCAS, you’ll see the status of your application (see below for what the different statuses mean). However, UCAS won’t show your individual grades, just whether you made your firm or insurance offer, or if you don’t currently hold a university place.

To get your grades, you’ll need to go to your school or college. Check when they’ll be open from and to, and where you need to go to collect your results.

If you’re accepted into your firm or insurance choice, congratulations! There’s nothing more you need to do. If you aren’t accepted, don’t panic! There are many options available to you: this isn’t the end. Read on for what to do if you don’t get the results you need. 

What does my UCAS status mean?

When your UCAS profile loads, it can display one of several messages:

  • “You have replied to your offer(s) and are holding at least one conditional place.” − UCAS is still waiting to hear back about whether you’ve got a place from at least one of your offers.
  • “Congratulations! Your place at [university name] for [course title] has been confirmed.” − You’re in! Wait for the university to get in touch with you about the next steps.
  • “You are in Clearing. Your Clearing number is [Clearing number].” − Either you didn’t receive any offers or you didn’t meet any of your offers. Once you receive your results, you can start looking for vacancies through Clearing.
  • “[University name] has offered you an unconditional place with substantial changes to your original choice. You are now waiting for confirmation from [University name] (your other university or college).” − One of your offers has accepted you for a different course than your initial offer; this could be a different subject, duration, or entry point. Your other offer hasn’t contacted UCAS yet.
  • “At least one of your universities or colleges has offered you an unconditional place with substantial changes to your original choice.” − At least one of your universities has come back with an alternative offer. If both have given you changed course offers, you will need to accept whichever you prefer within 5 days.

UCAS has further information about the different statuses.

I was accepted onto my course. Can I defer a year?

The option to defer a year (i.e. take a year out without losing your place) will depend on your course and university. You’ll need to contact them directly and ask to defer. Most likely, you’ll need a reason for deferring, such as a job or medical reasons. If you want to take a year out to travel, explain that you want to have new experiences and gain independence. 

If your course says no, you can opt to decline your place and reapply next year. However, remember that you’re not guaranteed a place just because you got in this time around.

I was accepted but I no longer want to do this course. What can I do?

You can reject your firm or insurance offer by clicking the ‘decline my place’ button in your UCAS application. This will cancel your contract with the university for good, so think carefully before doing anything drastic!

I got better results than I expected. Can I look for better options and change courses?

Firstly, well done you! Exceeding personal expectations is always exciting and (by definition) surprising. Take a moment to bask in your own glory. 

In the past you could use UCAS Adjustment if you got higher grades than your initial offer. From 2022, Adjustment is no longer available; instead, you can browse Clearing vacancies for courses that meet your new requirements. If one takes your fancy, you can decline your place, enter Clearing, and register your interest with this new course. As declining your place is permanent, it’s worth looking around at the Clearing vacancies first, and double check with the university that there’s still a place up for grabs before clicking the button. Read on to find out how Clearing works. 

What is UCAS Clearing?

Clearing is a way for universities to fill the empty spots on their courses and for students without offers to find a course with vacancies that will accept them. The UCAS search tool is the official list of course vacancies, allowing you to search by subject, university, or entry requirements. 

Clearing is open from 5th July until 18th October. This gives you plenty of time to get things sorted, so don’t panic if Results Day ends and you don’t have anything set in stone.

Can I use Clearing?

You might use Clearing if you:

  • Didn’t submit any applications before the initial UCAS deadline
  • Didn’t receive/accept any offers
  • Didn’t meet the conditions for either of your offers
  • Declined your firm place through your application

Other universities can only see your application through Clearing if you’ve paid the multiple choice application fee.

How do I apply through Clearing?

If you’re going through Clearing, it’s advisable to talk with a teacher, tutor, or careers advisor at your school/college. Teachers do their homework for Results Day too, so they can talk you through your options and answer any questions you may have.

Use the UCAS Search tool to view vacancies. When browsing, remember:

  • You can change subjects. You don’t have to be loyal to your original choice. You can look around for subjects that are related to your original degree or align with your areas of interest. 
  • Be open minded. The beauty of Clearing is you can consider options you might not have considered originally – why not look at joint honours courses, or a subject that doesn’t require you to have studied it at A Level? There are lots of weird and wonderful degrees out there! These types of courses tend to have lower entry requirements, too.

Clearing Plus is UCAS’s Clearing matchmaking service. It suggests courses to you based on your grades and interests. You can find out more about it here

Clearing can be a drawn-out affair, so keep checking back. Universities will update course info regularly as spots become available. Students may choose to defer or decline their place: if a course doesn’t have places initially, that doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way.

Check the course details, such as how it’s structured, which modules you’ll take, how long it lasts, and what the entry requirements are. Clearing isn’t about finding a university place at all costs. This will be your life for the next few years, so don’t sacrifice your standards for the sake of an offer! Keep an open mind, of course, but don’t jump at just anything.

If you find a course you’d like to apply for, you need to call them before you can add them to your application: 

  • Give them your Clearing number (on your application) and personal ID, so they can find you in the database.
  • Ask if they’ll accept you. Even if they rejected you the first time, they might reconsider.
  • Ask about accommodation options – is there still university accommodation available on campus, or will you need to look for private accommodation?
  • See if there are opportunities to look around the campus, either in person or virtually.

You can collect informal offers over the phone in this way from several universities before choosing which to go for. If they offer you a place over the phone, you’ll typically have 24 hours to accept it. 

Once the university confirms they’ll accept you, you can add the course as a Clearing choice. Fill out the details by clicking the ‘Add Clearing choice’ button. This counts as accepting the offer, so once they confirm, it’ll show as an acceptance. 

You can only add one Clearing choice at a time. If your initial choice doesn’t confirm your place, you can add another.

What are my options if I don’t get the results I need?

If you don’t meet the conditions of either your firm or insurance offer, don’t panic. It’s easier said than done, but remind yourself that all is not lost. No matter what your results are, there are plenty of options out there for you.

Male student looking at an exam results board which states pass or fail.
Don’t just stop at Pass or Fail: there are still things you can do if you don’t get the grades you need.

Call your university

If you just missed your offer, or think there are extenuating circumstances they should consider, see if they’ll accept you anyway. 

  • If they won’t accept you for your original course, they might allow you to change courses to one with a lower offer, such as a foundation degree or a related subject. 
  • You might be able to transfer back to your original course further into your studies.

Go into Clearing

You can look for the same course at other unis, or even consider applying for a different course altogether. 

  • As Clearing opens before Results Day, you can prepare by looking through vacancies and writing a list of universities to call if you do go into Clearing.

Request a review or remark

If a paper or two have a much lower mark than the others, or you’re a couple marks off a grade boundary, then you can ask that your papers be looked at again. 

  • Talk to your school or college if this is something you want to do. 
  • If your place at university relies on it, make sure you request a priority remark.
  • You might need to pay a fee for each exam script you ask to be reviewed. Speak to your school or college if you need financial aid.

Take a gap year

You could spend this travelling, working, or studying to resit your exams. 

  • You can decide to reapply to university with the grades you have or, if you’re unhappy with your results and believe they don’t reflect your true ability, you can take resits or retake the year. 
  • If you want to resit or retake, make sure you’ve considered the implications. You may have to pay for each resit. Plus, exams are stressful, even more so when they didn’t go well the first time, and you don’t want to risk your mental wellbeing. You and your health are more important than a piece of paper!
  • Travelling and working are great ways to gain real-world experience and build up your CV, or even improve your UCAS application for next time.

Go to college

Colleges, such as arts colleges, technical colleges, or community colleges, offer a range of qualifications that you can take even at school-leaving age.

  • For example, you might consider taking a vocational course (e.g. BTEC), or taking employment-related courses like management or business.

Apply for an apprenticeship or school leavers programme

These allow you to earn a wage while learning a high-skilled job, and you leave with a qualification (or a few!).

  • Some apprenticeships provide the opportunity to take degrees alongside them, and your employer will pay your student fees.
  • By the end of your apprenticeship, you might even have a head start over your uni-going peers.

Get a job

The job market is where we all end up eventually, so why not jump in now? 

  • Entry-level positions are available in all sectors, meaning you can still work in the field you want to. 
  • Look for work with the opportunity to progress your career, such as with promotions or training courses. 

If you need an expert to talk through your options with you, you can call the UCAS exam results helpline (0808 100 8000) for free.


Whatever happens on Results Day, remember to celebrate! Plan something nice with friends or family. Treat yourself – you deserve it! Completing high school and sitting very challenging exams is a huge achievement, and just getting through it is a feat worthy of recognition. Let go of all the stress and take a moment to congratulate yourself, to reflect, and to smile.

Hopefully we’ve answered any questions you have about the ins and outs of Results Day. Go forth knowing you can’t be caught unawares and that you will survive this!

To read our Top Tips for A-level Results Day, click here.

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