Here’s my top tips for A-Level students on university places as results published – Chris McGovern

THE waiting is over. A-Level results are out. Two years of hard slog, for the majority of the youngsters at least, have finally come to an end. Well done to all of them!

Will A-Level students be jumping for joy today?

If nothing else, they have made it to the finishing line. How easily an older generation can forget the trauma and challenge of it all. For these teenagers, the future should now look a little clearer.

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The overall pass rate is around 98 per cent with 25 per cent attaining the top A*/A grade. In Mathematics, a mark as low as around 20 per cent ensured a ‘pass’. So, there should not be too many disappointed candidates.

Will A-Level students be jumping for joy today?

Nevertheless, these are not easy times for young people. Ever-growing issues of mental health amongst teenagers suggests that pressure on them to succeed has never been greater.

The level of pass grades (A* to E) will now become the centre of attention. In many cases these will determine university places.

The A-Level grades of some will not have met what they required. Sometimes, universities will allow a drop of single grade in one subject of their offer but this is by no means always the case. Life can appear really tough for those youngsters who do not quite make the grades.

What does the future hold for this year's A-Level students?

But young people would be well advised to shrug off disappointment. In some respects they have never had it so good. For close to 40 per cent of those seeking university places the A-Level results are, in fact, an irrelevance. They will already have been given one of a burgeoning number of unconditional ‘free pass’ offers.

These days there are no restrictions on the number of students that a university can recruit. A current population dip in the number of 18-year-olds means that university entry has become a buyer’s market. Admissions departments are scrambling around to fill their places. Some are even offering remedial catch-up years for youngsters with sub-standard A-Level grades.

Nor need ‘wrong’ subject choices at A-Level be an impediment to higher level study. Some medical degree courses, at Manchester University, for example, no longer require an A-Level Chemistry and you can be accepted on an engineering degree course, even at prestigious Bristol University, without an A-Level in Physics! So, as tough as these times might be for our 18 year-olds, they are far from being too tough.

A-Level results will be published today.

Under-achievement at A-level, certainly, is not the black hole it might seem. Here, then, are two little secrets for all of this summer’s A-Level students.

Firstly, universities want you more than you want them and nearly all have vacancies. If necessary and where possible, ditch any conditional offer and shop around for something better. Do not forget that admissions tutors are less concerned about what is best for you than what is best for their university.

‘Bums-on-seats’ is what they are seeking. Your fees mean their survival. Higher education has become a business-model-driven market place. Admissions tutors are educational wide boys looking to reel you in. Beware, particularly, the ‘free’ gifts that some universities offer if you sign up – laptops, premier league soccer tickets, gym membership and so on. Don’t fall for it.

Secondly, try to understand that degree courses are not always what they are cracked up to be by university advertising. For some, of course, especially the most academically able, they are a great next stage in life. They provide enjoyment, challenge and worthwhile employment opportunities. But that is only part of the picture.

Many undergraduates end up not only heavily debt-burdened but either under-employed or unemployed. When I made this point to a conference of university admissions tutor a few years ago, the conference hall fell silent. The government’s director of the Office for Fair Access to higher education, who sat alongside me, was mute, on the matter, too.

Attracting more and more young people into higher education is for them the only game in town nowadays.

Tellingly, though, at the close of the conference, three university admissions staff thanked me separately and privately. ‘What you said needs to be said, but no one else will say it,’ was the gist of what they said. This is the university’s dirty little secret that is never told.

Apprenticeships, on-the-job training, or simply full-time work are a better option for many of those who have just received their A-Level results. Universities are a perfect pathway for academic youngsters but not for the majority.

Below-par grades may be a blessing in disguise that have saved you from a route that rakes in money for the universities, but may well impoverish your life long term.

Poor A-Level results may be a blessing in disguise. You may be amongst the lucky ones. There is no need, at all, to fret. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!

Chris McGovern is chair of the Campaign
 for Real Education.