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Onwards, upwards or outwards?

What to do next is a common post-exam quandary. Janette Wolf has some ideas. It is now just over a week since A-level students learned whether their two years of study have paid off. In spite of the record number of passes, there will be many still wringing their hands in despair at low grades or for whom results present a dilemma of the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go? variety, and who have not yet decided whether to take a gap year.

The broadsheet newspapers are awash with good advice and the latest updates on course vacancies, with the Independent and Independent on Sunday offering official UCAS listings up until September 15. But where else can they go for help and advice?

According to UCAS, 45 per cent of higher education applicants will face the nightmare of clearing after receiving their results, and around 9,000 students won't even bother to apply. The first Higher Education and Training Exhibition hopes to try and steady their nerves and put them back on track. It takes place at the Design Centre, Islington, London N1, over August bank holiday weekend (August 24-25) and is free. Universities and colleges will be on hand to answer enquiries, as will many other organisations from the Further Education Development Agency to youth development charity, Raleigh International. Seminars covering all aspects of student life will run on both days. Student hotline number 0171 813 31175.

Those for whom the process is proving more difficult than they thought, may find Getting into University and College, a seminar and exhibition, could smooth the way. It takes place at the University of Westminster, on September 21. Speakers include Brian Heap, degree course expert, Anthony McClaren, head of academic services at UCAS and Tony Charlton of the Art and Design Admissions Registry. There will also be a higher education and careers exhibition offering information and advice. The event is being run by Trotman the educational publishers, which is offering TES readers reduced entry. Bring along a copy of The TES front page and get in for Pounds 15 instead of Pounds 19 on the day. Tel: 0181 940 5668.

The BBC has a complete post-exam survival guide with Student Choice 96. This is not just for A-level students, but those who have received their GCSE results or who sat Scottish Highers. A student helpline offers instant access to the latest course vacancies, as well as advice and guidance on what to do next, freecall 0800 110 100. From page 700 of Ceefax on BBC1, there are over 300 pages of updated listings available until September 30. A complete summary of all the programmes and back-up services for Student Choice 96 can be found on the Internet: educationchoice.html. And if all that wasn't enough, there's a video guide entitled Student Choice: A BBC Guide to Getting into Higher Education which is available for Pounds 18.99 from BBC Educational Developments, PO Box 50, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EZ, or over the phone on 01937 840206.

Today is the last day to catch Capital Radio's Call-a-Course service for A-level students on 0171 962 6000. The service is run in association with the Rapid Results College.

Last year, UCAS reported that around 420,000 people applied for a university place, of whom only 290,000 were successful. On the other hand, 41,000 found places through clearing, so UCAS will be hanging on until the bitter end on September 20, dealing with enquiries from 8am-6pm daily and from 9am-5pm at weekends. Tel: 01242 227788.

So what should students do if they don't want to go to college this year? The number of organisations that can offer worthwhile and stimulating experiences for those opting to take a gap year is increasing in leaps and outward bounds.

Community Service Volunteers takes anyone from between the ages of 16 and 35 who would like to work in homeless hostels, prisons, hospitals, special schools or to support disabled people in their own homes. It doesn't cost anything and you get board and lodging and a weekly allowance. CSV can be contacted on a freephone hotline on 0800 374 991 or on the Internet on http:www csvorg. uk.

If you want something more swashbuckling, Raleigh International combines raw adventure with conservation and environmental projects in some of the world's most demanding terrain. Next year sees expeditions to Namibia, Uganda, Chile, Belize and Malaysia, where participants have a chance to hone their communication and leadership skills as well as make a positive contribution to the communities they work in. Raleigh expeditions are open to anyone between the ages of 17 and 25. Tel: 0171 371 8585.

The Project Trust provides the opportunity to spend a complete year overseas in one of 25 countries from Indonesia to Zimbabwe, and South America, for recruits between the ages of 17 and 19. Participants work in pairs and live as part of the local community in basic accommodation. Projects include working with the disabled, low technology building, teaching and coaching. Selection takes place on the Isle of Coll between October and January. Tel: 01879 230444.

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