It’s the day students have been building up to for what seems like their whole lives: A-level results, with all revealed from as early as 6am on Thursday.
At this stage, it’s all too easy to start freaking out about what that slip of paper mean for your future. But it’s important to remember that no matter what is written on it, there are so many options available to you – whether that’s starting work (yes there are companies that don’t require university degrees), going through Clearing or taking a year to figure things out.
To help you navigate the next 24 hours of stress and/or jubilation, we’ve spoken to career advisers and mental health experts to compile this survival guide to the big day.
Make sure you’re actually available throughout results day. This sounds obvious but Ucas advisers explicitly state they can’t speak to anyone else about your application unless you’ve nominated that person to speak on your behalf. So, no, your mum, dad or neighbour can’t jump on that phone for you.
Prep the info and kit you’ll need for the day ahead: your mobile phone, a charger (just in case), that all important Ucas Track login, a copy of your personal statement, your GCSE results (in case you’ve forgotten them), contact details for your universities of choice – plus details of any conditional offers.
It might make sense to email all this bumph to yourself so it’s close to hand. It’s also worth making a list of some of the unis and courses you might want to attend if you need to go through Clearing – more on that here.
Set an early alarm to give yourself plenty of time to get ready and have breakfast, so you don’t rush and stress yourself out before results time.
Now to relax. “Exam results can be a stressful time,” says Laura Peters, head of advice for Mental Health UK. “It’s very important that young people put their mental health first and make sure they are taking care of themselves.”
Have you got a good night’s kip – or just some sleep? A lack of it can impact your ability to deal with results in a logical, calm way, says Mental Health UK. Cut down on screen time before bed (putting your phone on flight mode nice and early, this once) and relax with a warm bath. If you’re struggling to nod off due to racing thoughts, why not listen to a bedtime story on the Calm app?
[Read More: How To Make Your Bedroom A Relaxing Sleep Haven]
The moment is here! Get up, get ready, eat breakfast – porridge or fruit are a good idea here (plenty of time for that Egg McMuffin later). Stay well hydrated, drinking plenty of water and avoiding too many caffeinated or alcoholic drinks (sorry), as these might increase feelings of anxiety, says Mental Health UK.
If you’re an early bird who usually hits a gym class or goes running at the crack of dawn, stick to this routine. It’s well-known that physical activity can help you feel ready to take on the day and boosts mental wellbeing. If you’re not a regular exerciser, today might be the day for some light physical activity, such as a yoga class or a short walk – even if it’s just to your school or college to pick up your results. It could help calm your nerves on the way.
Remember, while results come out at 6am that doesn’t necessarily mean your school or college will be open, so make sure you check beforehand.
If You Get The Results You Need...
You’ve seen your results and are getting palpitations (of the good kind) because the numbers and letters are exactly what you wanted – maybe even better than you imagined. If that’s the case, congratulations! Now you’ll want to go online to check what offers you’ve had. Ucas receives everyone’s A-level results directly and will update its tracker to reflect this – but this won’t be until around 8am.
While you might want to scream your results from the rooftops, be mindful that other people won’t be in the same boat as you and may be disappointed. Yes, that means waiting until you’ve left the building to do the celebratory conga.
“If you have friends that seem upset with their results, be supportive of them,” advises Sharon Walpole, director of Careermap. “If they are the sort of friend that likes physical contact, be sure to give them a hug. If they aren’t and they want to talk through their results, make sure you listen.”
“Deep down you’ll want to share your incredible grades, but wait to be asked and do remember you’ll have plenty of time to celebrate later with your family,” she adds. And if someone does ask how you’ve done, Walpole suggests telling them with a smile, but staying humble – “refrain from saying phrases like ‘it was easy’ or ‘I didn’t even try that hard’ – as this is a sure-fire way to alienate your friend and make them feel worse about their own results,” she advises.
It might be stating the obvious but don’t mock friends over their A-level results, even if you see it as just banter or a funny joke.
“Assure those that have not done as well as they might have liked that it is not the end of the world; there are plenty of options available to them including re-sits, university clearing and changing to a different course,” says Walpole.
If You Don’t Get The Results You Need...
If you opened the envelope and didn’t get the results you hoped for that sucks, truly – but there are other options to consider now. Go get yourself a hot (or cold) drink, sit down, and try to focus on what you need to do next.
You might be offered an alternative by the university/college you applied to – this will show up as a ‘changed course offer’ on your Ucas Track, which you’ll then need to accept or decline. Other options include re-sitting exams, going through Clearing, deferring for a year or entering work without a degree.
University isn’t the be all and end all. Companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, IBM, Hilton, Heathrow Airport and the Royal Bank of Scotland have said they do not require university degrees for some roles, according to Glassdoor. This route can involve going straight into the workplace with an apprenticeship or training scheme.
If you or someone you know does want to re-sit or change subjects, Walpole advises talking to your teachers on results day and asking to enrol there and then, so you can retake exams the following year.
Clearing is another option, where you can hop on to another course at a different uni. Science tutor Natalia, who previously received an offer from St Andrews University through Clearing, advises students to call universities as early in the morning as possible after receiving their results to get the ball rolling.
“The sooner you call, the more places will be available,” she says. You can go through clearing from 8am on results day. “Use the Ucas search tool to find courses that best suit you and from this, choose your top five to 10 locations,” adds Walpole. “Put aside some time to call your chosen universities, and have your clearing number written down as they will ask you for this.”
Once they’ve looked at your application, results and personal statement, be prepared to answer questions, and ask for an offer to be made even if you’re unsure about the course. Waiting lists change every hour, so keep calling universities for updates, says Natalia.
A university might give you a verbal offer or they might request to call you back. “These offers do normally allow you some time to think about it, but try not to leave it too long as others will also be going through the same process,” says Walpole. “Once you’ve made your decision, remember to contact the university directly again and say you’ve accepted their offer.”
If you’re confused about anything or just want some impartial advice, call the Exam Results Helpline on 0800 100 900 (open 8am to 10pm). It can provide insights into going through Adjustment (changing universities when you’ve done better than expected), exploring apprenticeships options or taking a gap year to get some work experience.
Missing a uni offer can sometimes be a blessing in disguise, giving you time to reassess what you really want to do – a year out travelling might help you explore in more ways than one.
The Rest Of The Day (And Night)
You’ve debriefed with your mates and figured out next steps. Now it’s time to party. But first... food. Restaurants Chiquito and Frankie & Benny’s are both offering free dishes to A-level students, regardless of results.
Mexican restaurant Chiquito said it will give away a free tortilla dish. To claim it you need to show your results and student ID between 15 and 17 August at one of Chiquito’s branches. The offer will also be available to GCSE students next week between 22 and 24 of August. At Frankie & Benny’s you can get a free main course (up to the value of £13.89) when you order a bottle of Coke or pint of Budweiser. The offer is valid on 10” pizzas, pastas (excluding Risotto), and some burgers. Sign up to receive the offer here.
Both the National Careers Service and Mental Health UK suggest that students should go and celebrate no matter what their scores are. “It’s important to reward the sheer hard work and determination involved with getting exam results and a great way to do this is by planning something special with loved ones,” a spokesperson says.
A word in your ear from Mental Health UK: “Some people choose to celebrate success with alcohol but remember that drinking can also have a powerful effect on your mood” – bear this in mine if you are heading out drinking or when you’re staring down the barrel of that tenth tequila shot at midnight.
Regardless of your results, today should be a celebration of the friends you’ve met throughout school and college, the fun you’ve had together – and the fact that you’re now entering a new stage of your life. Well done. You made it!