When it's time to get your A-level results, find out about the various options available as you look to secure your university place

When are A-level results out?

The A-level results date for 2016 was Thursday 18 August.

If you're applying to go to university in 2017, the key date for your diary is Thursday 17 August.

In Scotland, your Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) will have been sent by post on Tuesday 9 August 2016. The SQA results day for 2017 is Tuesday 8 August.

What time should I pick up my results?

Students are allowed to receive their results from schools and colleges any time after 6am on the Thursday. However, you'll need to contact your institution for their exact opening and closing times.

UCAS will usually receive your results directly and update Track accordingly - this is typically around 8am. As the system's going to be busy, with other students eager to find out if they've received offers, you may need to be patient.

While you can't add a Clearing choice using Track until 5pm on A-level results day (when the official Clearing list is displayed in the UCAS search tool), you may still want to find out your offers as early as possible. By getting in touch with universities straight away, you can attempt to sort out invitations to add a course for when Track is updated with its Clearing option later in the day.

Do I need to take anything?

If you're going into school or college you should take a fully charged mobile phone and a notepad and pen. You should also have to hand everything you'd need to apply through Clearing, including:

  • details of conditional offers, university contact numbers, your UCAS Track number, universities' UCAS and Clearing numbers;
  • a Clearing app from The Telegraph, or a copy of the newspaper listing the places available through Clearing;
  • notes from having researched universities and courses beforehand, with a list of questions to ask course tutors;
  • your personal statement and GCSE results.

What if I’m on holiday?

Ideally, you need to be contactable on results day - especially if you have a number of conditional offers and Clearing is a possibility - so if you're away, you'll need to ensure that Track contains your correct personal details.

There is the option for you to nominate someone, such as a parent or guardian, to access Track and make changes on your behalf. It's important to remember that some changes will be time-sensitive so your nominee may need to discuss your application with UCAS or universities within a specific timeframe.

If you didn't nominate someone when filling in your application, it's best to speak to UCAS and ensure the person now has access to your Track.

When you can't be there in person, but can get online, you can still log in to Track to find out your universities' decisions.

When will UCAS Track update?

As Track is where you are kept informed of your application's progress, the UCAS site is the place to go on results day. However, in the days leading up to the publication of your A-levels, Track is typically 'frozen' while the results are processed, and so you won't be able to make any changes during this time. Contact UCAS directly if you need to update any information.

You can expect the system to be available again at around 8am on results day. After it has been updated, Track becomes 'frozen' so, you shouldn't expect your page to change again until midday at the earliest.

It's advisable to log in after you've got your results, so you already have a good idea of whether you're likely to have been accepted by your choices and can better deal with any disappointment.

What will Track show?

If decisions have been made by your university choices, and UCAS have been notified, you can expect to see the following changes to offers on your Track page:

  • Unconditional - your place on the course has been confirmed. This may be your firm or insurance offer, or both.
  • Unsuccessful - you've not been accepted by your choice(s). You're now eligible to enter Clearing.
  • UCC (Unconditional Changed Course) - you don't have the necessary grades for your offer, but the university has proposed a similar course requiring lower grades. They may also offer an alternative start date, for instance, deferred entry. You have five days to make a decision and you may wish to speak to the university directly about this opportunity.

Please be aware, your A-level results won't appear in Track.

What do I do if I meet my offer?

If you're holding at least one conditional place and you've met the requirements, the offer will change to 'unconditional'. This firm acceptance is confirmed in Track and your AS12 letter will be sent by email. Some universities require further action on your part, but this will be explained in the email.

For those that have used UCAS Extra to add another choice - and you've been offered a place - you just need to accept it by the date displayed in Track. There's also the option of adding another choice, should you wish to decline the offer.

What if I don’t get the grades I need?

Don't panic, as there are a number of options open to you.

The first, if you've narrowly missed the grades by just a few marks, is to talk to the university about their decision. While they're under no obligation to reconsider, especially with places so competitive, they may listen to you if you plan to appeal any grades. You may even be offered an alternative course.

On the other hand, you could simply accept the decision and aim to go through Clearing instead.

Or, you may even change your mind and want to consider taking a break from study before applying for university again the following year. Try exploring ideas for a gap year.

How does Clearing work?

In 2015, a record 61,300 students secured their university place through Clearing. The service is available from July to September each year and it's the perfect way for those students without offers to find a place on a new course.

Any places on courses that universities haven't managed to fill are listed on the UCAS website and these can be found via their search tool. They are also published in The Telegraph newspaper. Vacancies are updated regularly, with the majority added from results day.

If you had conditional offers, but didn't get the grades you were expecting, you can enter Clearing from the day you get your results. Even if the requirements for your insurance offer were met, you may still be able to negotiate a release from your university choice to be eligible to go through Clearing.

To apply, you complete the details as normal (this includes your personal statement). Once submitted, you'll be invited to use the Track service and be given a Clearing number. From there, you'll need to follow the steps laid out for you and look for a place.

Contact universities with courses that interest you - even in subjects you hadn't originally applied for, and to universities that may have previously rejected you earlier in the year. See Clearing tips.

You'll need to give them your Clearing number and personal ID number, so they can view your online application. Verbal offers are usually made over the phone, but you should only accept one.

Once you've received a verbal offer of a place, this can be added in Track. The university will then confirm it to guarantee your place.

Remember, you'll only be able to add one choice at a time, so if the university doesn't confirm the offer, you can look again.

If Clearing doesn't go to plan for you, there is also an optional direct contact service available. By signing up, universities are given permission to get in touch with you regarding suitable courses. In 2016, this ran from A-level results day (Thursday 18 August) until Friday 9 September.

Can I get my exams re-marked?

While extenuating circumstances may have had an impact on how you performed during your A-level exams - for example, the death of a close family member - the exam boards should really have been informed by your school or college at the time.

Now that the results have been announced, if you feel that your marks don't seem right and your university place is under threat, for a charge (around £40-£50 per exam script), you can send some units back to be re-marked by AQA, the A-level awarding body in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Your school may be willing to help you with the financial cost of this. See AQA fees and payments for current pricing on the use of their post-results services.

However, you need to think carefully about this and be honest with yourself about your chances of success. That's because grades have the potential to go down or up following a review, so it's advisable to discuss it with your subject teacher first.

Requests are usually made by your school or college's exams officer, but you can get in touch with AQA directly, by sending an email to eos@aqa.org.uk, or by phoning 0800 197 7162.

You can either apply for a standard re-mark or a priority re-mark - with the faster service taking just 20 calendar days for an outcome. The former (30 days) may take too long if you haven't met the conditions of your firm or insurance offer, as you'll need to have the results back by the 31 August deadline.

If only some units need to be re-marked and you have already been accepted at your chosen university, the standard service is the best option, as the priority service is designed for those whose university place depends on the outcome. Whatever you decide to do, it's important to let the university know of your plans.

Even if the results are favourable (and you do get them back before the end of August), some universities may still decide not to give you a place.

After the deadline, universities may still hold a place for you, if you've kept them informed of your re-mark progress, but it's advisable to get their conditions in writing.

Can I defer my university place for a year?

You can ask your university to defer you for a year if you don't already hold a deferred offer. Technically speaking, this can be done up until the start date, but the earlier you tell them, the better. Be prepared to explain your reasons.

While many universities will agree to this, if they don't, you might wish to withdraw your application for this year and reapply when the process begins for the next student intake.

What if I get better grades than I expected?

You'll be eligible for Adjustment, which gives you the option of choosing an alternative course requiring higher grades. Available from A-level results day until 31 August, you can have a look and see if there's anything that interests you (as your original unconditional firm choice will still be safe at this point).

You're under no obligation to reconsider what you've already chosen - but if you would like to change where and what you're studying, you'll need to register this in Track. However, as many competitive courses may now be full, you'll have to search the vacancies to see what's left.

To discuss course vacancies you're interested in, contact the university admissions office directly. You can only verbally agree on one course choice, which will then appear on Track. Once you've confirmed this offer through the UCAS service, you'll lose your original choice in preference of this new course/university.

If you only applied for the one course in your original application (at the reduced rate), you'll need to pay the extra £11 fee to be eligible to apply for another course.

Adjustment can only be used during five 24 hour periods (which includes weekends), unless there are less than five days to go until 31 August. This period begins from when your conditional firm offer becomes an unconditional firm offer, or on A-level results day - whichever arrives first.

Visit UCAS for more information on the Adjustment service.

Clearing tips

Marta Topornicka, head of student recruitment marketing at Middlesex University, offers her advice on how to navigate Clearing:

  • Don't panic if you don't get the grades you were expecting and be prepared to shop around for suitable courses.
  • Listen to advice from parents and teachers as well as university academics and programme leaders when considering courses through Clearing.
  • Prior to results day, be prepared by speaking to admissions advisers on the likelihood of spaces being available. While they won't be able to confirm exact numbers, you'll get a good idea.
  • Consider retaking your exams, if your heart's set on a particular subject. Speak to your teachers, as they're perfectly placed to offer guidance on resitting, or if there are universities that might take you for a similar course.
  • Pick up the phone and call university hotline numbers between Thursday morning and late afternoon, with trained advisers taking you through the process step by step.
  • Be ready to answer questions on your reasons for choosing a specific course (as well as your academic ability), as they'll want to know you're the right fit. You may even be asked to speak to a programme leader about the course, or be invited for an interview.
  • Be aware of dates and times, including the fact that most courses won’t close until the end of the first day of Clearing. Hotlines will stay open until September, giving you time to discuss your options with those closest to you.
  • Take notes, jotting down reference numbers and words of advice, while having your UCAS number to hand.
  • Only when you're 100% sure on a decision, put in a formal offer via Track. This can be done after 5pm on results day, so use your time to research, browse websites, view virtual tours, check social media channels and get a feel for the university and area.
  • Be patient, with hundreds of students to process, it can take between half a day and a day for the university to make a decision and respond. If you haven't heard back by the next day, give them a call to find out about your place.
  • Don't worry that you applied late, as you'll still get a welcome pack and they'll make sure that you're all set for freshers week.