What if … my teenager doesn’t get the right grades for university?

What if … my teenager doesn’t get the right grades for university?

Dr Helen Wright
July 15th 2018

Most UK university places are awarded provisionally, based on predicted grades in final school leaving examinations.

This means that the majority of teenagers who have finished school this July and who have applied to university will be holding conditional university places only – ie, places which are dependent on them achieving certain (usually quite high) grades. What parents – and their teenagers – often do not realise, however, is that most universities will have ‘over-offered’, ie offered more places than they have spaces for on their courses. They do this because they want to make absolutely certain that their courses are filled by the start of the new academic year; and while if your teenager meets the grade requirements, they will be guaranteed a place, the same is not at all true if they don’t quite meet the grades.

Each year, significant numbers of school leavers don’t quite achieve the grades they need, and they need to take action on Results day. What, then, can parents do to support their children if this happens?

First and foremost, be prepared for Results day. There are several options available if your teenager’s grades do not meet the requirements of the offer … but note that he/she should take the lead in these; universities want to hear from the prospective students themselves, not from their parents.

Here are some of the strategies you might want to have ready:

  • Contact the first choice university and ask for the decision to be reconsidered; ask if there are alternative courses available with spaces which might be suitable;
  • Consider asking for the exams to be re-marked, if the grades are just short of what is needed – note that you will need specialist guidance on this, however, because grades can go down as well as up, and the re-marking process can take more time than you have;
  • UCAS in the UK operates a Clearing system if students do not meet the requirements of either their first or second choice universities – read up on this in advance, and have the numbers to hand in case you need them. This blog by UCAS is a useful first port of call.

Above all, this is not the time for reproaches; it is an opportunity to sit with your teenager and work out what he/she really, really wants to do.

Often, teenagers find themselves choosing certain paths because they think they should, but they are changing and growing all the time, and their interests may well have changed over the two or more previous years. In fact, not gaining a university place can open up a world of other possibilities, including the opportunity to take longer over school studies with re-sits, or a year off with work experience and travel, or a rethink of direction. Don’t be afraid to take this time – every door that appears to close is usually a sign that multiple other doors are opening somewhere.

And finally, remember that you are not alone. Aside from all the advice which you will find available on the internet, you should not hesitate to turn to your teenager’s school, tutor or a careers adviser for help. Educational professionals are well-versed in navigating the pathways of university entrance, and they will want to help you. As parents, we are often not the best people to sort out our children’s problems, but we can play a vital role by connecting them with more impartial other adults. Knowing that you are not alone can be a huge reassurance to parents.

Dr Helen Wright is a former Head of a leading UK public school and is part of the William Clarence Education Advisory Board.

At William Clarence, our University Admissions Consultancy and specialist UCAS Advisors can help you make sense of the clearing process and form a tailored plan for concerned families in the aftermath of A-Level results day. Contact us for impartial advice and support today.