Two outcomes, one result: Not getting the results doesn't mean not going to university

It's 23.45 on the 14 August.

You're lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to imagine what will happen in the morning when you open that all-important brown envelope containing your results.

Let's rewind three months.

Revision, revision, revision: surely there is more to life? Your final assignment has to be handed in at the end of the week, and you have yet to complete the research for it. And your A-level chemistry exam is on Monday.

Your baby sister is fast asleep, so no distractions there. The TV volume is turned down, you know the families on Jezza Kyle are truly dysfunctional and will do anything for a night in a swanky hotel in London, but it doesn't stop you from looking up at the screen every so often.

You're under pressure; you know you've got to get the grades or you face clearing and an unknown university.

Fast forward again.

Buzzzzzzzzzz, the alarm goes off. You sit bolt upright with a start. The thought of receiving your exam results makes you very anxious. So much rests on your grades: will you get what you need to go to the university you want? Will you get what you need to go to your insurance choice? Will you get grades good enough to go to any university at all?

You walk to school and put on your best smile to feign confidence. You talk loud and laugh long, but inside you're nervous. You're imagining the worst-case scenario: "What if I'm the only one who's failed? What will I do then? How will I face everyone? What will Mum say?"

Your teacher gives you your results envelope. Then you join a group of friends who also have their own envelopes. You agree to open them together.

Your stomach is tight and knotted. Your breathing is short and shallow. This is the moment of truth.


Suddenly someone starts screaming. And then others join in, with screams and shouts of their own. "I'm in! I'm in! I'm going to uni!" Loud and uncontrollable screams of laughter continue to be heard. Tears are shed and hugs exchanged.

There are two potential outcomes for you.

The first is that you get the grades.

You feel ecstatic, you're over the moon. But, more to the point, you are relieved. Everyone speaks at the same time about where they're going, what they'll be studying and the fact that it'll be amazing.

Then, apprehension and realisation set in. You'll be leaving home, you realise. You will be going to university, meeting lots of new people, living in a flat with strangers. You're going to be cooking for yourself, doing your own washing, doing your own shopping, managing your own money. Scary.

You text your mother with the news. By the time you get home, everyone knows and is waiting to congratulate you.

Outcome two is that you don't get the grades.

Oh. Everyone else is still shouting and whooping around you. But you don't have the grades you need. Not for your first-choice university and not for your insurance choice. It feels like your stomach has plummeted and is hovering somewhere around your ankles.

Everyone else will be going home to celebrate. But you will have to go back and start your research.

Your parents can tell from your face that it isn't good news. You log on to the Ucas website and begin searching for universities with vacancies in your subject. You note down your Ucas ID number and make sure that you have your A-level, BTEC and GCSE results to hand. Then the round of phone calls begins.

A couple of universities show interest. You prepare some questions for the advisers and academics. You make arrangements to visit the campuses.

Three weeks later.

You are packed and ready to leave home for university. "How do you feel?" your mum asks.

"Happy," you say. "Scared. Excited. Nervous. I can't wait!"

Good luck.

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