Results advice: What's right for you?

THE moment of truth will come for thousands of A-level students today when they get their exam results. Teacher and columnist Simon Warr has some timely advice.

THE moment of truth will come for thousands of A Level students today when they get their exam results. Teacher and columnist Simon Warr has some timely advice.

A-LEVEL results are being published today and there will, doubtless, be lots of recent school-leavers biting their cuticles in nervous anticipation.

Modern-day A Level students get a pretty raw deal in sections of the media with regard to courses and results. The actual fact that 6th form pupils work as hard today (in many cases, harder) as us middle-aged fogeys did in the 70s and 80s seems to be ignored. The biggest change of all has been the proliferation of A level top grades being handed out and this has caused problems for universities in their attempts to pinpoint the most able students; it has also caused problems for the pupils themselves, as the academic integrity of their courses has been called into question.

On a practical level, what is to be done by candidates who will be receiving their results today? First of all, ignore all the sniping and, if you've secured the grades that you aimed for, pat yourself on the back on a job well done.

If you are planning on University, good luck and enjoy the experience. Your choice of where you're going will, presumably, have been well researched: it has to have been, because the next few years are going to cost you 20 odd grand (if you were about to spend this sort of money on a car, you would want to know as much as possible about the vehicle before committing yourself to the purchase).

Don't forget, you are the customer and you must make sure you receive value for money. You are going to be spending a lot of both money and time at your choice of uni and if you are not happy, you are not going to produce your best work.

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This is certainly not a holiday and if you are in doubt about either the course upon which you are about to embark, or the choice of university itself, don't proceed just because it seemed like a good idea last November.

There is so much to consider about your choice of uni:-

a) cost of living in the area

b) good facilities and accommodation on site

c) effective teaching

d) effective tutoring system

e) type of university (civic, greenfield, creative, sporty, collegiate, multi-cultural etc). For example, if you have lived in the middle of Ipswich all of your life and you have decided to study at Warwick, be prepared for a change in life-style. Likewise, if you reside in a Suffolk village, with a pub and (unlikely) a post office, Manchester will also be a life-changing experience.

Certainly, do not blunder your way onto a course on the basis of some fad you experienced around Christmas time. I taught Latin to a very bright linguist last year and I encouraged him to go on to Oxbridge to read Classics - he resisted because he had got it into his head he wanted to study Chinese - it was a whim and he lasted a term on the course. He's restarting with Classics in September.

Choice of both university and course is crucial.

What is to be done, if you have not received the grades you need to pursue your chosen course?

First of all, ring the Admissions Officer at the university, as occasionally they have got it wrong and have asked for too high grades from their prospective students.

If you live close enough, go in person. Either way, show them how keen you are, as they do not want students withdrawing mid-course and if they think that, although you haven't secured the grades they were asking for, you are eager, determined and reliable, they may make an exception.

If you are unsuccessful, then it's clearing for you.

Clearing is masterminded by UCAS and, basically, it represents a mad scramble of first-come, first-served students, endeavouring to take advantage of the universities' eagerness to fill all the gaps on their admissions' list.

Check on the UCAS website (www.ucas.com) to ascertain which universities have a space which is compatible with your need. Don't necessarily accept the first offer that comes along; take a day or two to look around.

Be in no doubt that the chances of you completing a course in which you have only a modicum of interest, but accepted to go on because you were determined to go to university, are very slim: an expensive way to be bored!

When you have settled in your mind that this is the course for you - and only when - you will need to send the university your CEF (Clearing Eligibility Form), which is a binding contract.

I cannot stress enough that for more and more school-leavers university represents fees, debts and, in some cases, useless courses....it can be an expensive mistake.

On no account accept an offer with lukewarm feelings. If you are not burning to start this next phase of your life, then stop and reconsider.

This modern-day idea, propelled by the government, that all school-leavers must aim for a university degree, is palpably foolish, as also is the suggestion that if someone decides to follow an apprenticeship to train as a plumber, then he or she has, in some way, failed or is socially inferior. All utter nonsense!

If you do not obtain the grades you were after, then my advice is:-

a) check very carefully before you decide on another course or university

b) take a gap year and re-apply (unis like this, as they already know what grades you have, so will often make a lower offer)

c) go into employment (my boss at Radio Suffolk is an outstanding sports' broadcaster and has never set foot in a university)

d) look for sponsorship, whereby a company, to which you pledge allegiance, pays for your degree studies

e) go to FE college, to train in a craft skill (we are so short of electricians and the like).

If you decide to take a gap year, ensure you use it profitably - travel abroad or help on a community project, either here or overseas; you might decide to learn a foreign language: unis like these sorts of things. Do not waste the year.

If you are determined to go onto university, always be mindful of the fact that it is costing you money, so take full advantage of what's on offer.

£22,000 debt after 3 years is not to be scoffed at, as well as the thousands you could have earned in the world of work.

The plus side of it all is, if you do pursue the right course at the right university, it may prove to be the happiest and most rewarding period of your life and you will certainly be increasing your future earning power.

Good luck to all those who are getting their results today.

- Simon Warr is an A Level languages teacher and head of drama at the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, near Ipswich.