Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 17:12 UK

What future for A-level students?

A-level students have now received their make-or-break grades, but with a sharp rise in applications to university this year, not every student has got the place they hoped for.

Three students talk about their grades, and what they mean for their future.


Anum Naveed has had a difficult day, because although she achieved four A grades in biology, physics, chemistry and maths, she will not be studying medicine next year.

She wants to be a doctor. But although she was predicted to get four As, none of the medical schools she applied to offered her a place.

She says the disappointment has left her in tears.

"I've been trying to call institutions and I've tried many universities but there are no vacancies in medicine."

As an insurance place, Anum also applied to study biomedical sciences at a separate university and says she will probably take up this place rather than re-apply for medicine next year.

Anum Naveed
Anum wants more places available in medicine

"I was rejected for all four universities where I applied for medicine without even an interview," says the student, from Havering College in Essex.

She knows medical degrees are highly oversubscribed, but believes the recession has made things worse.

Anum believes that there are potentially more older graduates applying to study medicine for a new career.

"When I asked admissions tutors why I hadn't got a place, they just told me competition was intense," she said.

"I criticise the government for not introducing extra places for medicine.

"By doing so, ministers are making a point that future doctors are not very important for the economy while engineers and other professionals are."

Universities admit they are sometimes rejecting very able candidates, and Anum is all too aware that applications to university have increased sharply this year - by around 60,000.

"Young people like myself have become a serious victim of the recession," she says.

"On one hand, the number of students applying has increased, and on the other, we hear university staff are being cut because of the recession.

"Both these factors combined have left even the most intelligent candidates without any offers."


Jack Richards has taken A-levels in maths, drama and music technology, but is hoping to go in a different direction at university and study for an animation degree.

He achieved a B in maths, a B in drama and a D in music technology, meaning he can take up his offer at Birmingham University.

Some disruption to the music technology teaching at his college meant most students got low grades, Jack said.

Although maths was actually his strongest subject, he decided it might "be a bit too boring" as a degree.

And Jack's desire to go into a creative profession prevailed.

Jack Richards
Jack is good at maths but has not chosen it as a degree

"My choice is down to my personality really", he says.

"I found maths challenging, but I understood it.

"But for a degree I wanted to something a bit more fun."

The government has made more places available in maths this year as one of its priority subjects, but this does not sway students like Jack who do not find the subject rewarding enough.

He admits to a few concerns regarding his course choice, because it is so specific and may leave him with fewer options after university than a more general academic degree such as maths.

But he also knows that there are various future options within creative and digital media.

"But I'm quite confident I will like the course and have fun on it, and that it will be ok."

Recently he has begun selling canvases of street art, personalised according to the purchaser's request.

He sells them for around £50 each, and hopes this will help fund him through university and help him avoid too much debt.

For Jack, the all-round university experience is important, and that means not just the academic reputation of the institution.

He applied to universities close to his home in Sutton Coldfield, in the West Midlands, so he would be close to family and to his girlfriend who will study art.

"I wasn't determined to go to a top university," he says.

"Social life is a big part of it for me, and being able to get back home easily is helpful too."


Catie Martin had decided to take a gap year to get work experience which would stand her in good stead for the future.

But now the student from New College, Nottingham, has got good A-level grades - B in English and C grades in media studies and business, and she is wondering whether to take the plunge and go to university this year instead.

Catie Martin
Catie says she always knew she wanted to teach

She has always wanted to teach and thought some work experience or a year out would put her ahead of some other candidates and make her a desirable candidate for teacher training.

"I'm not high-flying," she says.

"I know that if there is a choice between an A-grade candidate and me, most people would choose the other candidate."

But now most of her friends are off to university and she is wondering whether her gap year will be worthwhile.

She has spoken to Huddersfield University, which is holding a place for her to study English Language for a few days while she makes up her mind.

But her mind is in turmoil and her plans are up in the air.

She is having difficulty making such a big decision.

"I'm going to speak to one of my teachers who went to Huddersfield, and also visit the university, but I don't know what to do now," she says.

She had intended to keep a part-time job at John Lewis to help ease the financial strain.

She must also consider the cost - which she finds a frustration.

"The cost of fees is too high - they're ridiculous," she says.

"I just don't see why they need to charge £3,000 a year - and they just seem to go up and up."

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