Advice

‘I didn’t get the A-Levels I need to study law at my first choice uni — should I pick another course or retake and reapply next year?’

By on
116

Any advice would be much appreciated

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring lawyer requires readers’ advice after failing to achieve the A-Level grades necessary to study law at her university of choice.

“I got my A-Level results on Thursday and I disappointingly didn’t achieve the grades needed to study law at my first choice uni (I won’t name them, but it’s part of the Russell Group). I managed to speak with admissions over the phone, but it doesn’t look like they’ll take me on. I don’t really want to settle for my insurance (non-Russell Group) or a lower-ranking university through clearing, especially because it may harm my chances of becoming a lawyer in the long run. Someone told me that if I want to be a solicitor, I should choose a different degree entirely and convert to law later because it will set me apart from law students, but I’m not sure. Should I retake my A-Levels and reapply to my first choice next year or should I switch degrees altogether and try to find a good uni offering a different course through clearing? I saw my first choice uni offering politics through clearing. Could I apply for this and later switch to law? Any advice would be much appreciated.”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

116 Comments

Anon

A lot of non-russell groups (e.g. Surrey or Kent) are just as good for law, if not better than some russell groups (such as Liverpool). It ultimately depends on what university your insurance choice is. Have a look at their law school and see what they have to offer in terms of career advice and support.

Anonymous

Top employers will look favourably on Russell group grads over non-Russell.

Bristol Grad

False. Russell Group is self-selected and based on research spending. People bang on about it like it’s the UK Ivy League and that’s bollocks.

Anonymous

Your point has nothing to do with the post it is replying to

Anonymous

Reading would be the best non Russel

Anonymous

Agreed

Anonymous

But talk about being damned by faint praise.

Anonymous

Nah it’s probably Uni of Buckingham or Surrey

Anonymous

lol uni of buckingham

Anonymous

Lancaster has really been making its way up too. Although their entry requirements are higher than several RG Universities anyway…

NQ Associate

It is a myth that your A levels cease to matter after you start your degree – regardless of the degree discipline the vast majority of firms have strict minimum A level criteria. At my law firm, unless there are extenuating circumstances, HR will automatically reject anyone who falls below the minimum A level criteria as they have too many applicants who meet all the criteria to look at those who don’t. You haven’t stated what your grades are, but this table: https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/law-firms/getting-a-training-contract/application-and-selection-criteria gives some guidance on minimum acceptance criteria.

As such, it is probably worth retaking your A levels (you will need to declare the retakes, but this is less likely to be a total deal breaker) if you wish to train at a city firm and do not have the grades to match.

Anonymous

Totally agree, most top firms require AAB minimum. Lower firms mostly ABB-BBB

Anonymous

1 million percent retake your A levels. I retook mine from BBD to AAA and I now have a TC at an MC firm that I would not have had if I had chosen to go through clearing.

Anonymous

I hate that you can do a non-law degree and become a lawyer. Such a slap in the face of those of us took law and an insult for those of us who worked incredibly hard to get a mere 2:1 in our LLBs…
Someone abolish the GDL please.

(120)(106)

Anonymous

If firms and chambers didn’t find find GDL grads to be as good or better than LLB grads then they wouldn’t take so many of them on. As it is neither LLB or GDL will be qualifying law degrees soon and everyone will have to post-grad exams to qualify as a solicitor. So your wish has been granted, after a fashion.

Anonymous

And what about those who start their non-law degree and realise they want to become a lawyer in their 2nd, 3rd or 4th year hm?

Anonymous

What about those who study arts but realise they’ve always wanted to be an architect?

Anonymous

Grades > university.

So that may mean retaking A-Levels to get the standard grades needed to enter the legal profession (i.e. TC to become a solicitor you will need to achieve at least ABB) which will get you into a decent RG university and then when you apply for TCs you’ll have both good grades and university on your CV to progress further.

If you go to a non-RG uni and do a degree that wasn’t your initial choice you will have to work extra hard to get to where you want to get to. Make the sacrifice now.

SB

You definitely don’t need to do Law to be a lawyer. Many people (myself included) did the GDL and if you’re looking at solicitor route, it may well be paid for by the firm you’re going to for a TC. It is far more important to go to the best uni you can than wait just to do a law degree, as you run the risk of not getting in next year even with retakes (another risk). Politics is a very respectable degree and I have many friends who did politics degrees who are now at the bar and at top firms.

I also missed my grades and ended up going to my second choice uni, but it didn’t stop me getting to the bar! Chin up – all things sort themselves out in time. Good luck for the future!

LawyerLady

Sorry to hear you didn’t get the grades you hoped for. Please try not to be too despondent -> A-Level grades in no way define you as a person, or your future.
Many successful solicitors and barristers do non-law degrees. On my floor at a UK Top 25 firm there are colleagues with degrees in Geography, Zoology, History and Modern Languages.
If you’re really interested in the curriculum of the Politics degree you could access through clearing, then that may well be a good option. However, if you don’t feel that way, then I would not recommend taking up a place on any old degree just to access your chosen Uni.
The place you need to speak with right now is your first choice Uni. Ask them if you could switch to Law next year if you achieve certain grades on your first year of Politics. Also ask them if you could possibly speak with a Law Tutor to explain how committed you are to the subject and keen to study there. They might possibly exercise some discretion and accept you notwithstanding your grades.
With regard to re-taking your A-Levels, only you know if you did your best over the past year and/or if something happened which caused your exams to go badly wrong. I would only recommend re-sitting if you feel the year ahead could be very different and could get you a very different outcome.

Anonymous

“Top 25 firm”

Lmaooo sounds like utter shet

Anonymous

So IM, OC, DWF, DAC or FieldFisher. Hefteh.

Anonymous

It is like playing for Brentford then.

Anonymous

You’re more likely to persuade grad rec to lift the A Level requirements if you do, say, History at Manchester rather than Law at Hull.

Plus law degrees are tedious (I did one).

If you’re set on the City, I’d recommend resitting and using the better grades to get into the best possible uni to do a less competitive subject than law (so long as it’s not a complete joke, just because Bristol offer Film and Television doesn’t make it a serious degree).

Kirkland NQ

I did a degree in Film and Television and am doing just fine.

Anonymous

Thought you dropped out of Harvard to smash PE deals?

Kirkland NQ

Yes, had to sacrifice my career of a successful film director for that.

Anonymous

I think this article is looking for advice from lawyers, not masquerading first years

Monica

I agree was offered Economics at Manchester and took Law at Westminster took me a longer time to get a good pupillage although it wasn’t impossible. Law as a profession respects older more well rounded applicants so go to the best university you can get into or retake. Just remember some people’s lack of enthusiasm for a 3rd year of A levels can affect their retake results so know yourself.

Anonymous

LLB at Westminster and a pupillage? Pull another one babe

Future US Trainee

You know that there is a world outside of the City? You will get a variety of graduates in smaller sets outside of London, especially in the North. I took some working experience during my first year of university in one of my town’s sets and there was one Oxbridge alumni, a couple of RGs and the rest were from universities which are traditionally in mid- to low- rankings. All really good barristers, but obviously not the commercial heavy types.
According to my humble observations, if you graduated from non-RG university, even a low ranking one, it is still possible to get a career in law, albeit it will be much harder and arguably also quite impossible to enter commercial sets in London (where, obviously, you will get a high ratio of Oxbridge grads).

Anonymous

No decent law firm would ever employ anyone with a degree from Hull.

Anonymous

There is University in Hull? I learned something today.

Bob

Wasn’t that where Philip Larkin was the librarian?

Anonymous

Here’s another lesson its learnt not learned

Leena

Enroll at university and CILEX or SRA equivalent. Do your undergrad and LPC and get some work experience in during the same period.

By the time your finished, you’ll be an FCilex. Do your PSC and you’ll be a solicitor.

Anonymous

And no one will ever take you remotely seriously. Fuck such shit advice bro

Anonymous

The absolute worst advice I have ever seen on this site.

Ashbek

Think about languages, this is a very typical route: people study, say, German and Italian and then do GDL/LPC in order to convert. This gives you an international advantage over those, who do not speak those languages.

Anonymous

And teaches you strange, sentence structure.

Anonymous

But apparently no grasp of when to use a comma.

Captian Obvious

Good to know your denser than porridge that has been cooking for too long.

Anonymous

You’re.

Sonia

If you want to retake your A levels I would recommend MPWs in London. Otherwise I’d recommend Politics at ur Russel group uni and then the law conversion course. Some very good universities such as Queen Mary University of London also do Graduate LLBs. Also Southampton a very good Russell group uni has offers for law on clearing. Take a look at their website.

Anonymous

Southampton is a shite university. If you go there, you are by definition thick and badly educated.

Stacey’s Mom

Define “shite” please. If you mean a Russell Group university in the top 100 globally and top 20 in the UK, then Southampton is “shite”! Or is it the case that you had a “shite” experience at a prestigious university but would rather blame the institution?

Anonymous

I didn’t get very good A levels had Extenuating circumstances). I had decided by that point that I would go through clearing and go to a non-Russel group university. At the time I though it was the end of the world.

I went through my law degree got a first and gained loads of different experience along the way. I finished my law degree still thinking no one would be interested in me, but continued onto the BPTC because I knew it was my dream.
During my BPTC I got offered a Pupillage at a really good (out of London) set and then finished my BPTC with an outstanding.

The point of me telling you my story is to demonstrate that poor A level and non-Russel group was not the end of the world for me but I had to do a lot extra to make me competitive.

Equally you mention the GDL route. If there is another subject you are passionate about go for it, if not it will be a long 3 years. I don’t think the GDL makes you stand out or different now as it commonly done. However, depending on the area of law you find interesting and the degree you would do it might give you some useful insight into the topic.

I think if you want to be in London it is different but if you are thinking elsewhere in the country I don’t think A level grades are the absolute end of the world.

Good luck going forward

Anonymous

You can do a lot extra and still not get anywhere. My story is very similar to yours in that I obtained a First, an Outstanding, and lots of experience along the way, but I was never offered a pupillage. Similarly, I met people during the BPTC who obtained similar A-Levels to me, but a 2:1 degree and VCs, and they got pupillage.

A career in law is about more than just your appearance on a CV, more so than almost any other profession. What’s more, how you present in person is something much, much harder to refine, especially because the parameters at that stage become much more objective.

Anonymous

Correction – “the parameters at that stage become much more subjective”.

Liz

Excellent advice. The best non- pretentious advice I have read so far. Thank you.

Anonymous

With respect, saying you have a first from a non RG uni is like saying you are the best dressed person in Bulgaria. It means nothing. And that you are practising at a non London chambers confirms you are third rate. Please don’t give advice to people.

Anonymous

Non-RG “1st” = Oxbridge 2:2, maybe less.

Anonymous

Maybe you should take the hint that you are not up to the academic standards for the profession. A third tier law degree is a massive handicap.

Anonymous

Exactly. There are outliers who make up for such a handicap on their CV but for every one of those there are 9 or 19 or more that don’t.

Anonymous

Quite. You simply aren’t clever or well educated enough.

Anon

Like you, I didn’t do too well in my A Levels – there was an unexpected death in my family when I was 16, and I didn’t manage to find the passion to study in the aftermath. In the end I got BCC (given my whole school life, I should have got A/A*s, but there we are). I had the choice of resitting, as well as clearing offers to do International Relations at a Russel Group uni, and law at a good non-RG uni. I chose law, and did bits of interning and volunteering in legal aid/human rights throughout my degree, and then became a legal aid paralegal after uni. In this job, I applied for TCs and got an offer from a good medium sized city firm.

My point is – I got off to a rocky start, and didn’t go to the best uni, but when I got there, I worked pretty hard, got a first and some experience, and got a good TC after uni. If I had got the grades I wanted at A Levels, I probably could’ve settled for a 2.1 at a better uni, and got a TC with less experience, but what does it matter in the end?

I might have had more fun on a personal level doing the IR course, and perhaps I would advise myself + a language to do this if I could go back. I hated my A Level years due to my family’s bereavement, so would not have considered resitting for a second, but this is up to you. You should remember though, that the longer it is after A Levels, the less they matter. Firms do have A Level requirements, but these may be more or less flexible, and you now have the opportunity to improve on these grades at uni. Of course, if you had got straight As, you might have had an easier ride, but this definitely isn’t the end of the world, and you can still do really well.

Anonymous

PLEASE READ

Nat

I didn’t get my grades at A Level either. I took a gap year. Took another AS and A2 subject in tech. Reapplied and now I’m a 1st year NQ Solicitor in Northern Ireland. Don’t settle or change just rearrange how you get there. I have 5 AS Levels, 4 Alevels, a degree in Law and a Post Grad to practice Law. Im 26. It’s not a race to get there.

Having a poo

If you’re interested in or good at something else – Russell Group and GDL it. If not, resit. Yes, you can make it from a worse Uni with an LLB, but you have to be on top of your game from day 1. A good first (probs) won’t be enough.

Anonymous

You can get into any City firm you want – excluding a very small handful (e.g. Sull Crom) with AAB+ from a middling – Russell-group university. So anywhere from Kent, UEA, Sussex, Reading up to Oxbridge. AAB, a strong 2:1 or above, a personable approach, bit of work experience, bit of pro bono, bit of sports/music – job done and you are ready to join the City law dolla train.

A&O heft

Where are these Sussex and UEA grads at my firm?

Why did everyone come from a handful of RGs?

Why is the intake 35% Oxbridge?

Anonymous

Those grads are at all firms – including yours, including top-tier US. There’s fewer of them, and those that make it in will be the best and most driven – but they are there. Uni alone won’t be a bar to you getting in if you’re at one of those – A levels, polish (or lack thereof), or not knowing when or what to apply to will.

John Doe

I did International Baccalaureate, and I did not achieve the score necessary to join the Russel Group university for law. However, retaking exams never crossed my mind, because to me it is akin to avoiding responsibility. Every point of ‘failure’ is a point for growth and learning. If you simply just retake exams because you were unsatisfied with your score, you’ll never learn to accept your own failure, live with it, and grow from it. If you got the stuff to make it big in law, a mere low score in A-level will not stop you— regardless of whatever those people in the comments say. So in my perspective, go through clearing, pick the next best university you can get in, and work your butt off for that first class. Go out of your way to find experience. You will make it if you believe you got the stuff regardless of which university you are at. And if you can show progress, the firms will see it.

Anonymous

Rubbish. Do something which befits you intellectually – such as estate agency.

Anonymous

That’s ok, none of the LC staff have any a levels and look where they are!

Ch536

It depends on what kind of firm you want to work at and what kind of area you want to qualify in.

If you want to work at a top firm then yes, retake your A Levels so that you can get into a Russell Group University.

If you want to work at a regional firm then I wouldn’t say that you necessarily need to retake your A Levels.

From personal experience I got BCC in my A Levels (I made some bad choices when I decided which subjects to do), I got a 2.1 in my LLB from a University that I’m sure other commenters would snub and I went on to qualify as a solicitor with no issues, working in a regional firm.

I think that unless you really really want it and understand what it is to be a solicitor then don’t bother retaking your A Levels. I personally couldn’t think of anything worse than putting my life on hold by a year but my friend did it so that he could go to Oxford and he is now a solicitor in a top firm. He had to do two masters as well and has only just qualified age 28 but he did it.

Anonymous

But surely sacrificing a year in order to completely change your future career

Anonymous

A-levels are a piece of cake. If someone can’t smash 3A*s then I would file your CV in the bin.

Join the conversation

Related Stories