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A level students debate university places

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 19 August 2010

Channel 4 News kicks off a discussion with students who received their A-level results today - both good and bad - and debates the university places and career paths with university representatives and NUS experts.

A-level results: students' experiences

Debate is raging in the media about the lack of places available for students with good grades, as A-level pass rates rise for the 28th year in a row.

But for students across the UK who have received their hard-earned results today, the debate is more about their own future.

Channel 4 News spoke to six students about their results and their plans.  They were joined by president of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter and Wendy Piatt from the Russell Group, among other experts, for a live studio debate.

Jenna Hellur (pictured), from Essex, is 18. She attended South Essex College and achieved four A-levels at A*, A*, A, A. She wants to be a doctor, but despite her strong showing today - which was predicted by her college - she did not get in to any of the universities she applied to: King's College, University College London, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge.

"I can't believe I did so well to be honest," she said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't change the fact that I wasn't offered a place despite being predicted to get four As."

She's going to take a year out and apply again, and hopes to raise money to fund herself through university during the year. Despite the increasing expense of university, she thinks it will be worth it.

Londoner Amy Walker got three A-levels, at A*, A and B. The 18-year-old wants to be a film journalist, and has accepted a place at Westminster University. She studied at South Thames College.

"I was really nervous this morning," she said. "I really didn't think I'd get an A* today.

"But I had a lot of support. I really hope now that the whole university experience will be good for me."

Former prime minister John Major and Labour MP Alan Johnson, who was once higher education minister, didn't go to university - but 18-year-old Thomas Lydon from Stroud, who is hoping to follow in their footsteps and become an MP, has been accepted by Leeds University.

He got two As and a B in his A-levels, from Marling School.

"I'm really pleased with that result. I was really apprehensive yesterday because I thought I wasn't going to get the grades but I can breathe easy now," he said.

A-level results: the agony and the ecstasy
The days before you get your A-level results, like the days before you take the exams themselves, are agony, writes student Fred Mikardo-Greaves for Channel 4 News.

You want to get it all over and done with as quickly as possible, like ripping off a plaster, but at the same time you never, ever want to know what you got and would much rather continue getting up at 1pm and watching back episodes of Jeremy Kyle until 6pm, thanks.

Having a grade requirement for a university place only adds to the pressure, because you know that if you should fall short, then the next few years of your life will take a completely different course. Indeed, you may not end up taking a course at all, with competition for places tighter than ever this year, so it really is an all-or-nothing situation.

Read the article in full here

Getting a place was what mattered to Cassie Degg, 18, from Stafford. She got three A-levels at B,B,C, and studied at King Edward VI High School. She has accepted a place at the University of Manchester, and plans to be a teacher or a writer.

"I'm very impressed with myself to be honest. I worked really hard but I'm just happy to have gotten a place," she said.

Jack Smith, 18, from London, was due to study at Leeds University next year but did not get the grades.  

Jack studied at Graveney School and got three Bs in his A-levels. He wants to do something creative.

He said: "Unfortunately I didn't get the grades I needed. I intended to take a gap year anyway but I might have to re-take some courses to bump my grades up."

Shanaz Roye, 19, from London, missed her grade by one mark in one of her A-levels, and has missed out on a place at either of her preferred universities, Brunel or Surrey.

She got three A-levels at B,C,C from Merton College, and is now going through the clearing process. She wants to work in advertising, marketing or human resources, and would like to set up her own business.

"I haven't gotten in to my preferred university which is strange as I got quite good grades," she said.

"I was just one mark off getting a B for business which would have made all the difference. I now have to go home and try and get a place through clearing. I'm just really angry."

Tips for those facing clearance:
If you are one of the unlucky 170,000 who fails to secure a university place, you can enter into the clearing process with UCAS (for more information on clearance click here). Prof Ebdon gives Channel 4 News his top tips:

1. Can you be flexible on your chosen subject? There may well be more vacancies in the 'stem' subjects of science, technology, maths and engineering.

2. Can you be flexible with location? There may be more places on offer for your chosen subject at another university.

3. Consider becoming a part-time student. Part-time students make up between 42-48 per cent of all students in the UK and are not subject to the government's 'cap'. You can combine a part-time Open University degree course with a part-time job.

4. Take a Gap Year, but make sure you do something useful to enhance your university application for next year. "Don't just wander around the world. Do something that develops your leadership, iniative and new skills - particularly the 'soft skills': interpersonal, communication skills, that school leavers often lack," Prof Ebdon said.

More tips and advice on clearance from the experts

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