Succeeding if You Miss Your Target Grade | The Careers Service Succeeding if You Miss Your Target Grade – Oxford University Careers Service
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Take a breath!

Degree results

If you have graduated with a lower degree grade than you hoped for there are still many opportunities open to you, and many Oxford alumni before you have gone on to forge successful careers. Whilst it may be disappointing, don’t panic.

According to the DLHE data we collect annually, there is no significant difference between undergraduates who got a 2.1 and those who got a 2.2 in terms of starting salary and percentage ‘unemployed and looking for work’, six months after graduation.

When pursuing your career search, it is worth bearing in mind that:

  • Employers are interested in much more than your academic qualifications. They are particularly interested in how you demonstrate your transferable skills. If you have significant, relevant extra-curricular achievements – for example, in sports, charitable fundraising – this will count in your favour.
  • Many companies will also take into account mitigating circumstances which may have negatively impacted your grades (e.g. illness or bereavement).
  • Employers may consider a 2:2 from Oxford a better result than a higher class degree from many other universities. See some employers’ views on how they view degree results below.

You may also find it helpful to have a discussion with a careers adviser, either when getting started or at any point in your job search: The Careers Service offers on-going support to alumni for as long as you need it and we are happy to provide advice by phone or Skype if you cannot come to see us in Oxford.

How alumni have responded in the past

Many Oxford alumni have done very well in life despite their initially disappointing degree results. Whilst it may seem like a barrier, the profiles in the latter sections of this briefing demonstrate how by thinking differently and with some perseverance it need not be a major disadvantage.

What if your school grades are not strong?

Oxford undergraduates are likely to have excellent ‘A’ level results, or equivalent, but some postgrads may not. In your applications, employers will still expect to see the school subjects you passed and the grades achieved, so list these in your CV and/or application. If you miss them out, the recruiter may infer results worse than you actually achieved. Some electronic application forms give you space to comment on your academic grades, should you feel that they are not indicative of your capabilities.

Your A-levels (or other high school) results become less visible as your record of achievement at university and beyond grows, and as you gain greater experience outside of your academic studies. Placing greater emphasis on more positive areas of your application where you can is therefore worthwhile (eg, excellent prelims/mods results or relevant work experience), but always be ready to answer questions about your A-level grades at interview.

As with all questions that probe a potential area of weakness, it is best not to try to ‘cover up’ any difficulties but to find a way to present them positively as a learning experience, and to demonstrate how you have developed in response to them. Admitting, for example, to a period of poor motivation during your ‘A’ levels shows more integrity than blaming someone else for your poor grades, especially if you go on to talk about some strategies you have used to sustain your motivation in your current studies.

Employers' views

Many major firms have accepted applications from graduates who did not achieve a 2:1 or higher in their degree. Firms are normally interested in much more than your academic qualifications, and if you have significant, relevant extra-curricular achievements this will count in your favour. They will also take into account any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your grade.

In recent years, some of the biggest graduate employers have also taken steps to remove hurdles for graduates by relaxing requirements for minimum UCAS points or degree results, led by the Big 4 financial services firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC). This trend is likely to continue and it is worth checking recruitment pages carefully for minimum requirements, and asking recruitment teams whether you can apply.

William O’Chee, Partner at Himalaya Consulting

‘As an employer, I would have no hesitation in employing someone with a 2:2, provided they displayed a certain mental agility at interview. Indeed, I have employed many people in such situations. I place much more store in a person’s character and interview performance than in their grades. Let us not forget, either, that a 2:1 or even a First at another university is not necessarily superior to a 2:2 at Oxford, for reasons we all know. For those who do get a 2:2, my advice is to ignore the degree classification. Focus instead on showing to an employer that you would be someone who would contribute intellectually to the company you join, and also by being the sort of person with whom others want to work. Oxford graduates of all kinds are generally interesting and talented people, and will undoubtedly succeed should they apply themselves.’

Ian Thomas, Managing Director, Turquoise Associates

‘I can offer a perspective as an employer in a small business in the financial services sector. My view would be that we would consider someone with a 2.2 from Oxford on the basis that it is probably as good a degree as a 2.1 from a number of other (even high ranking) institutions. However, I am sure that most large firms, faced with a large number of applications, do use degree results as a way to filter candidates down to a manageable number for interview. In those cases, the individual will need to stand out in some other way, such as non-academic achievements, in order to be considered.’

Top tips for success
  • Seek out employers that have graduate schemes open to graduates with a 2:2 – there are many more than you might expect! TARGETjobs: How to job hunt if you get a 2:2 is a good starting point, with advice and links to industry relevant listings.
  • Think widely about your career options. Graduate schemes are only a small proportion of graduate level jobs, and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) offer a huge variety of opportunities for graduates.
  • Make a variety of applications, to small, medium and larger firms.
  • Make sure that each application is well-crafted; stagger applications to assess success rate, and change/improve your strategy, if necessary.
  • Develop contacts by networking at careers fairs, employer and alumni events. Think about the people your friends and family may know too.
  • Consider different locations across the UK and internationally, as competition for positions is fiercer in some locations than others.
  • Focus on extracurricular activities to evidence your motivation and think carefully about the transferable skills/experience you have gained as a result.
  • Try to gain additional significant work or voluntary experience and consider job shadowing to build you knowledge of a particular sector or company.
  • Consider trying to get in at a different level (e.g. paralegal) or by temping in that sector to build your skills and knowledge, and get yourself known.
  • Develop a back-up plan or other options.
The Gift of a 2:2
  • Degree Subject & Classification: History 2:2
  • Current Job/Company: Entrepreneur: marketing and innovation strategy

Back of the Bus

“It’s good, I suppose.” muttered my personal tutor. “This 2:2 means you’ll actually have to apply yourself. You can’t just coast through life, as you coasted through Oxford.”

‘Coasting’ landed me 58.4%, 0.1% off a safe, sensible 2:1. Ouch. Results night, I took the bus from Cowley and didn’t get off, making several circuits of town hunched on the backseat.

I’d earned the ire of tutors, parents, and to my mind, the world at large. Friends bought me a pint to commiserate. When I got the gumption to request a re-mark, I was laughed out of the faculty.

Like most, I’d no clue what to do after my Modern History degree. Now I couldn’t even hide in a Management Consulting grad scheme – who would take my Dreaded Desmond? I considered a redbrick MA to ‘clean my nose’, but couldn’t face more library boredom. So, to work!

Ground Zero

Through a college friend I found a job editing a little arts magazine. The Careers website came in handy; I could tutor foreign students at a summer school. Editing and teaching kept me afloat as I avoided my parents those awkward post-graduation months.

I applied for a writing job on the Careers website and was invited to interview in London. I arrived early and overheard the previous candidate. Luckily the interviewer asked me the exact same questions, so I had a head start. A few days later I got a call from a man with a thick Spanish accent, who offered me a job starting straight away – if I came to India.

The job? Helping analysts at a finance company turn quantitative research into qualitative tips for investors. No-one showed the slightest interest in my degree subject or classification.

It was quite an adventure. There were two other lads from Oxford. The company put us in a hotel and had a driver run us to work. When a cow sat on the highway, holding up traffic, we missed the morning briefing. The canteen food was excellent. Although the other Oxonions had better grades, I got on better with the team and the CEO liked my writing style. I was promoted.


Two years after graduating, I applied to one of the Big Grad’ employers, nervous I’d be scuppered by the 2:2. After five interviews and a process lasting several months, the dreaded question arrived. Would I mind getting a tutor’s reference, about my grades? My eternally patient personal tutor obliged. The CEO in India also sent a warm reference. I was duly offered a job at the tech giant.

At this point I felt I’d ‘cleaned’ my youthful indiscretion, the 2:2, with a juicy brand on my CV.

Trouble was, I hated the job.

I was surrounded by Oxbridge graduates with 2:1s and 1sts doing deathly dull work. Life was an interminable spreadsheet. Compared to my other post-Oxford work experience, this was far and away the most boring job I’d had. As soon as I could, I scarpered.

Choose Your Pond

It turns out I prefer smaller companies. 

After leaving the Big Player I worked for a startup and found myself running their conference series. I worked hard and earned their trust. One summer, the company asked me to relocate to Manhattan, somewhere I’d always dreamed of living.

A few years later, I moved to Tel Aviv. Changing country puts the degree in a whole new light. Israel is a hands on, results-orientated culture. Business is about what you can do, right here, right now.

Of course they’ve heard of Oxford, but it doesn’t translate into the local culture. I never say I studied History, since the only thing to do with a History degree here is teach. Scrutinised carefully by new colleagues in a new culture, I pushed doubly hard to prove my worth, and by necessity became extremely results focused. That stood me in good stead for my current freelance career.

Now I recruit others, and honestly, jobs are not about you. You are hired to get stuff to get done, and at the start of your career, you represent potential.

Road Less Travelled

My personal tutor was right. The 2:2 killed my option to coast.

It forced me to roll up my sleeves and try new things. I put myself in strange situations: In India and Israel, I was the native English speaker in the room; in America, never underestimate the lure of a British accent; back in Blighty, all my exotic foreign stories go down a treat.

Alumni example - The Trainee Solicitor
  • Degree Subject & Classification: Law 2:2
  • Current Job/Company: Trainee solicitor

If you are facing a 2:2 the best piece of advice I can give you is not to panic. You may well feel upset and even angry at this point and, if you now face the prospect of not keeping or obtaining a training contract as a result you may also feel pretty uncertain about the future. This was exactly how I felt. However, given time I was able to find a training contract with an excellent firm of solicitors and the best thing I did was never giving up.

I had a terrible final year at Oxford and although I was half expecting a 2:2 I was still devastated. Up until this point I had been unsure about being a lawyer and had not made any job applications. My degree result seemed to now make the task of finding a job even harder. The following year was pretty upsetting to hear about friends starting the LPC and progressing with their careers. I kept busy by doing various temping jobs. Looking back I think keeping busy and continuing to work were what kept me sane and not to mention solvent. I managed to get lots of secretarial experience in Birmingham law firms and actually that was what helped me decide that I would like to give law another chance.

I started to apply for training contracts. Unfortunately every firm to which I applied that year rejected my application. I was never given any feedback but I feel very sure that this was because I had a 2:2. I had mitigating circumstances but nevertheless these never seemed to be taken into account.

I still applied for the LPC for 2004 and then spent the next 8 months in Mexico. The following summer firms were still rejecting my applications but nevertheless I embarked on the LPC. The thought of spending so much money on the course was pretty daunting but I worked on the premise that I was much more marketable with the LPC than without, and additionally I could show that I was still academically capable.

Towards the end of my LPC I was still without a training contract and went back to my temping agency in search of secretarial work. Because of my previous experience I was very lucky to get an interview at a firm in Birmingham. The firm had not long been in the area and I had not applied to them in previous years. The HR manager instantly sold the firm to me and when she mentioned the possibility of paralegal work I was ecstatic. I joined the firm the week after I finished my LPC exams. Within 3 months I was a paralegal.

Whilst a paralegal role does not guarantee a training contract at any firm it can provide you with valuable experience. I was very lucky that after 12 months the firm I was working for offered me a training contract to commence in September 2007. I was never asked again about my degree result!

Many firms have a policy of not offering training contracts to paralegals. I was fortunate that my company gives its staff a chance to progress within the firm. Additionally, although the firm does state that it requires graduates to have achieved a 2:1 all applications are considered fully.

Tips if obtaining a 2:2 or third:

  1. Don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world.
  2. Try and get relevant work experience in the area you want to work in.
  3. Don’t give up! If I had never done the LPC even though it wasn’t funded I would never have found a training contract.
This information was last updated on 13 December 2017.
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