If you receive your A Level results tomorrow and find you haven't met the required grades, it may seem like the end of the world but that genuinely isn't the case. Doors to your University education remain firmly open and waiting for you to walk through, as long as you have made the right preparations.
If you find your grades aren't sufficient to gain you a place at your original choice of University, you can go into the Clearing process. Clearing is basically a way of matching universities without students to students without universities. It is imperative that you have a copy of the Daily Telegraph on results day, as this is the only place you will find a full list of all the Clearing places available and you can start making contact immediately.
Clearing officially closes on 20th September 2012 but the majority of people don't take that long to find a suitable place. It can be a bit of a mad scramble but if you're undecided and have not checked out the possible alternatives before results day, it is worth taking a bit longer to make your decision. Universities often set up special open days to help potential students make an informed choice.
In Clearing the first step is to contact the University by phone (or e mail, but obviously a response will not be as immediate). This is an informal contact, but the University will base a decision whether to invite you to apply on this contact. It is therefore worthwhile taking a bit of time to have a few notes written down, reasons you want to study this particular course at that particular University. It's not a great idea to sound like you're just panicking and desperately trying to get into the first University that will take you!
Have your notes, a pen, spare paper and your UCAS number with you when you call. You will also need your UCAS Clearing number at some point, but don’t panic if you haven’t received this yet. Have a copy of your personal statement to refer to, and be prepared to sell yourself on your personal and academic achievements. Brag about anything you have done exceptionally well, highlight any skills or experiences directly relevant to the course you are applying for and be ready with your reasons why you want to do this particular course. The more knowledgeable and enthusiastic you sound about both the course and the University the more likely they are to invite you to apply.
The Universities will be incredibly busy, so don't be surprised if it takes some time to get through. You may have to speak to an advisor before you get through to an admissions tutor - this may save everybody time in the long run as they will check your grades and experience match what they might have on offer.
When you do speak to an admissions tutor, you will normally have an informal discussion with them, but remember that you need to portray yourself in the best possible light to increase your chance of being asked to apply.
You may be spending the next three years of your life at this University, it is certainly worth going to any Open Day available. The tutors, fellow students, area and surroundings will all impact on your overall University experience, and you can also check out what accommodation is likely to be available. Some Universities guarantee accommodation to people entering through Clearing, and if not they will help you find somewhere to stay, with lists of approved landlords and details of suitable private accommodation.
You can speak to as many universities and colleges as you want to during Clearing, but you can only accept one course.
You can talk to UCAS by phoning 0871 468 0 468. This is just for queries about your application, or for general Clearing enquiries, although they won't offer you any advice on which university or course you should apply to, etc.
A somewhat unexpected deviation from your presumed education route may at first seem like a setback, but if you embrace it as a fresh challenge there is no reason for it not to offer at least the same opportunities you originally anticipated.