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School teachers are often telling their students that if they fail to prepare, then they should prepare for failure. What teachers are far less willing to talk about is what to do if you happen to come across a failure. It happens to the best of us. Our grades have not been good enough over the past year. The personal statement that we thought was great at the time was actually mediocre upon further reflection. Or you just got unlucky and found that universities had to politely decline your request to study there. There are plenty of people who have been in this situation, yet it is very rare to ask an obvious question. ‘What next?’

We all screw up from time to time. But the school does not adequately prepare us for what happens when things do not go to plan…

The first thing that you will need to do is to look back at your application as a whole and identify the areas in which things went wrong. There is no point being charitable here. Brutal honesty is the only way you are going to be able to improve upon your previous performance. It is good to talk to your peers and your teachers as well. Everyone has their own biases, but there is a difference between a dispassionate professional and one of your best friends.

Then you need to decide what path you want to take in order to deal with the problem facing you. One of the most common options is to make use of UCAS Clearing, allowing you to gain admission to courses with lower grade requirements which still have places. This is a path that a number of people feel obliged to follow, as it ensures they are in education next year and that the whole exercise has not been for anything. But clearing really isn’t for everyone. The courses left are unlikely to fit your academic passions exactly. Even if they do, it is unlikely the university will fit your profile closely (or else you would have applied there in the first place). Clearing can be an excellent option for some, but make sure to view as AN option and not THE ONLY option.

For those who decide clearing is not for them, and still want to go to university, then it is to the murky waters of the often dreaded ‘Gap Year’. But there is no need to view taking such a time out of education badly. It serves as a chance to properly recharge the intellectual batteries. Done correctly, the Gap Year is a fantastic opportunity to discover new interests, meet new people and acquire new skills. It also provides months in which you can show admissions tutors that you have improved outside of the school environment. It is a chance to develop sector-specific exposure, especially valuable in an application for a vocational subject.

But to make a Gap Year a success, you have to ensure that you remain busy and keep the mind sharp. It is often good to take at least one resit in your weakest subject. This is because you will not lose the crucial study skills that you will need to take with you to university. Also, make sure to plan the whole year early. Allen and Jain have helped a number of clients enjoy their Gap Years so much more than their peers because they were put in contact with relevant industry professions and kept busy with work.

Many people manage to get into university the second time around. Voluntary gap years are also very common, and the likelihood that the University remembers the first application is low. But it is important to make sure that those who have influenced you most are onside. It is important to view the Gap Year as something more akin to a secondment than to a holiday. Every part of who you are as a person should have improved in order to have the best chance of putting right where you previously went wrong. If you chance, then a university’s judgement of you is also likely to change.

Sunny is a Managing Partner at Allen & Jain Education who have 75% success rate for Oxford and over 80% success rate for Ivy League universities. Sunny has an undergraduate degree in Materials Science from Oxford. He is also an incoming Fellow at the Harvard Davis Centre. You can reach Allen & Jain Education on WhatsApp at + 44 749 662 5544

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