15/08/2013 09:59 BST | Updated 15/10/2013 06:12 BST

A Level Results - No Place? No Problem

It's that time of year again where thousands of A Level students find out their results and face important decisions about their future.

Let me start by saying congratulations - contrary to what many naysayers would have us believe each year, studying for A Levels is hard work and I for one firmly believe more attention should be paid to acknowledging effort rather than casting doubt on its validity. But that's the topic of an entirely different blog!

As expected, the overall pass rate has remained fairly static (rising marginally to 98.1%). While the percentage of those gaining top A or A* grades has fallen slightly (from 26.6% to 26.3%), the overall news for students is very positive.

So what next? That is the big question.

According to UCAS, almost a quarter of a million students are either still awaiting decisions or have the option of entering the university clearing system.

However, just this past week, a poll by Which? found that more than one in four students who gained their university places through clearing felt unprepared - over a third went so far as to say "panicked". Thirty per cent simply said they wished they'd been able to do more research into their choice of course and university.

This is a big problem. The pressure on young people to choose now or regret later, is immense. It's no wonder panic sets in.

Surely choosing the right option is better than choosing any option - particularly in this, the second year of £9,000 annual tuition fees.

My advice to students uncertain about their next step is to take time and take stock. Look at what you really want and at the different options there are to get there.

For many, 'going to uni' will be the right decision but don't rush into it just for the sake of bagging a course. Taking a year out to gain work experience may actually mean you can get onto a better course next year - the one you really want.

But going to university is certainly no longer the only route forward. Distance learning is another option growing in popularity. At RDI, we've seen enquiries rise 40% year-on-year and just this year, recorded 93% student satisfaction with course quality.

Online distance learning gives students the chance to study for degree courses from UK universities in their own time, at their own pace, and with course enrolment periods throughout the year, rather than just the traditional autumn intake.

There are financial advantages too. Distance learning degrees typically cost around two thirds less than attending a three year 'bricks and mortar' university course. This route also gives students the additional advantage of being able to 'earn while they learn' - all the while gaining valuable workplace experience, boosting skills for future employability.

This combination of work and study is definitely growing in appeal. Like distance learning, apprenticeships and trainee schemes have rocketed in popularity. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has seen applications to their trainee scheme more than treble from 2006 to 2012, from 719 to 2,514. Many such firms are introducing more and more courses aimed specifically at A-Level students rather than graduates, such is their popularity.

What I'm saying is that there are options - more options than ever before - and those students clutching their A Level results wondering what to do next need more support to help them explore exactly what is available to them, rather than being rushed into a decision that just isn't right for them.

My advice then to young people looking to answer the question 'what next?' - look at university courses available, look at distance learning, look at apprenticeships, look at what careers you may be interested in and what workplace experience might be relevant. Just don't look to someone else to make the decision for you. It's your choice and there's no rush to make it.