Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 16:31 UK

Life after A-levels

Applications to UK universities reached an all-time high this year - more than 610,000 people have applied.

For a government aiming to get half its young population into higher education, that has to be good news.

But the public sector funding squeeze has led to a cap on the expansion of places.

This, coupled with a bumper year of 18-year-olds and the harsh wind of recession tempting more old and young people into university, means roughly 200,000 people will not get places for this September.

We look at some of the options for those who did not make the grade - or those who want a different path.

Q: I am disappointed with my results and thought I would have done better. Can I appeal?

Yes, you can ask for a re-mark of your papers - but you have to be quick.

There is a window of about a week to do this - and your school or college has to do this on your behalf.

George Turnbull , known as the "Exams doctor" of the exams regulator Ofqual, has this advice: "One mark can make the difference between an A and a B, or any other grade, if you are at the top or bottom of a grade band.

"See if your school will support such action and raise an enquiry on your behalf. Let the university know that this is being done. They will hold your place open for a limited period.

"But move fast, as priority re-marks are available until 28 August only - for those with places at stake - and all other enquires must be raised by 20 September, for A-level."

Mr Turnbull, who held a senior position at a UK exam board for 30 years, says students can ask to have scripts re-marked and for a clerical check to see that everything has been marked and the totals are correct.

"And you can even have your scripts, or a photocopy, returned so that you can see how the examiners marked them," he says.

There is a charge but the money will be refunded if grades are changed. Mr Turnbull warns that grades can go down as well as up after re-marks.

My grades are lower than those I needed to get on my first choice course. What should I do?

There is a lot of advice at Ucas, the University Admission Advisory Service and you can call their advice line: 0808 100 8000.

As a first step, you should talk to the individual universities or departments to see if they will still accept you or offer you an alternative course.

George Turnbull says this is where perseverance will pay off: "There might not be a place today but there might be a place tomorrow. People do drop out or not take up offers, so you have to keep trying."

If they will not, you are eligible for clearing, where you can be matched to relevant courses with places.

You need to act quickly. Nick Hynes has been a careers advisor for over 20 years. He says students are under a lot of pressure. "High emotions are involved at this time of year.

"The decisions that these students are making could affect the rest of their lives.

"The week around clearing is so intense. I spend 51 weeks of the year telling students not to make snap decisions, but when A-level results come out, for one week it's an emergency situation and you're thinking on your feet."

Should I re-sit?

You can re-sit some of your A-level modules.

However, this year there is only one chance to do this - in January - because the A-level syllabuses are changing so the exams will be different next summer.

The A-level is going down from six units to four. There will also be different styles of questions, designed to test the brightest students.

What would that mean?

You would have to re-apply to universities this autumn.

That would leave me some 'Gap year time', wouldn't it?

Yes. You could use that time to work or volunteer, gaining some valuable experience which would make you an even more attractive prospect for universities or future employers.

I think I got swept up in applying to university with all my friends. I'm probably more suited to practical work. What are my options?

While the government is encouraging people to aspire to university, it also wants to increase vocational skills.

It has has brought in new Diplomas for 14- to 19-year-olds and made more money available for apprenticeships , where people can work while training or studying.

Apprenticeships are not just about technical skills either. They can be in anything from administration to veterinary nursing and include jobs in the public sector.

Peter Mitchell of the education foundation Edge says young people should not think that university is the only option.

"Good A-level exam results can be seen by students as the 'golden ticket' into university and a successful career. But university is just one of many paths to success and students should explore all of their options before selecting the next step which is right for them," he advises.

"In challenging economic circumstances employers are looking for young people with the skills to drive their business forward. Practical and vocational learning allows students to develop all their talents - including the initiative, teamwork and communication which will make them attractive to employers."

Edge, which says it is "dedicated to raising the status of practical and vocational learning" sets out some alternative paths and pulls together different points of advice on its website.

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