I didn’t get the results I wanted

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Many students wake up on results day to discover they didn’t get the results they had hoped for. While this is of course disappointing, it does not mean the next part of your life won’t be good, that you won’t have a fulfilling career or that you won’t get to university. Taking time and care to respond to your results can help you now and with the next steps you take.

First, give yourself a moment

Sometimes, when students don’t get the grades they wanted or needed, they feel they have to start acting immediately and grab for any course that will accept them. It won’t help if you react quickly and end up on a course that you don’t enjoy for three years.

Instead it can be more helpful, if you can take a moment to recognise and accept how you feel. It is ok to be upset, disappointed, angry, confused, numb or to experience whatever emotion comes long. Getting to this point took a lot of work and time and we can’t help reacting emotionally to disappointing news. Feel how you need to feel, breathe and try to be kind to yourself.

Pay attention to what this does and does not mean

Lower grades may mean that you won’t get into the course you’d hoped to join. However, it is worth giving the university a call to check – if grades are generally lower this year, some courses may alter their admissions criteria.

What this doesn’t mean is that your life is over, that you are stupid or that you will never succeed in life. Many highly intelligent and very successful people underperformed in their A Levels. The next bit of the journey may be different from what you planned but you can still build a happy and fulfilling life and career. That may feel unrealistic to you today but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

You have certainty now

Generally, we are not very good at managing uncertainty. Now you have certainty – you know what grades you have and you can explore the options available to you. This makes planning the next stage easier.

Don’t rush

You have a range of options. Universities will be actively recruiting through clearing but you also have other options – to retake A levels, to look for an apprenticeship, to work, to take a year to think through what you really want to do. Any or all of these options could lead to a good life and career. There isn’t one right perfect option that you have to find immediately and you are not choosing the rest of your life – just the next step.

Frame your options

Before looking at what you want to do it can help to take a little time to reflect on what might be good for you – it is important that this is about what is right for you, not what those around you might wish for or what you think you ‘should do.’

It can help to think about:

  • What gives you pleasure? What do you enjoy doing?
  • What gives you meaning? What do you find interesting, exciting or fulfilling? What are you passionate about?
  • What are you good at? What are your strengths? What do other people say you are good at?

Create a list of all 3 areas and you may find that there are some overlaps – things that appear on more than one list. Use this to help you focus on what you want to do next. Whether it is the course you choose or the job you seek. If you spend the next part of your life doing something that gives you pleasure and meaning and you feel you’re good at it, then there is a good chance it will be a good experience.

If you still want to go to university

You can review the places that are available at universities via the UCAS website. Seek those courses that match up to the lists of pleasure, meaning and strengths that you created. When you identify a course, prepare before you call the university. What do you want to know about the course? Do you have your personal details with you?

Trusted resource


The UCAS Clearing Hotline can answer any questions you might have about the Clearing process.

Think about the full student experience

Consider where the university is based – is it in a city or campus based? Is it large or small? Where will you live? What kind of social life is available? If you choose to spend the next 3 or 4 years there, these things will be important to you and your experience. If possible, see if you can visit the university and see where you will study and live.

Remember good is still possible

Your exam results may feel disappointing but remember that they don’t have to shape the rest of your life. Ultimately, there are many routes to happy and fulfilling lives. Yours will be different from the one you planned but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good or even better than the one you’d hoped for.

Take care of yourself

While you work through this, try to take care of your wellbeing. You may not feel like it but it will really help if you can eat healthily, get some fresh air and exercise and try to sleep well. This moment will pass and you can make it go a little more easily if you can be kind to yourself.

Healthy habits can help your mental health

Page last reviewed: September 2022