Hey, I was pretty devastated when I got my undergrad results – which were a 64 average, with no papers above a 2.i. Was Cambridge so only final year counted, but had got a 69 average the year before & a lot of firsts, and had felt I was on track to get a first (had done well all year, all practice exams & revision supervisions had gone rly well, supervisors were confident in me, I knew my stuff). It was also tripos where second and third years did papers & were examined together, so especially stung that second year counted for nothing because it wasn't even like third year was comprised of harder papers etc. Seeing lots of my peers get firsts, or even higher 2.is, really hurt and I was a bit of a wreck. I definitely missed by grade my Cambridge Mphil offer, can't remember if they revoked it or not (I had already decided not to go because couldn't afford it lol, but I was also already a student at Camb & iirc they can be more lenient internally). To this day, like 4 years later, I still don't know what I did 'wrong,'
I really remember friends etc telling me it was just a grade and wouldn't have a material impact on my life. Seeing as at my college, you got a few hundred quid for getting a first I remember being like 'well that is already a material difference' lol. In particular, I had wanted to do a PhD, and felt like with 'such a low undergrad result' I had no chance in hell of ever getting funding - based both on the experience of people I knew, and just off criteria for how you are ranked by most funders.
Anyway, I decided to try and ~prove myself, and outwardly not let it define me even though I thought about it waaay more than I'd like to admit. Despite getting a low 2.i in my dissertation (which was the lowest grade of anyone I knew on their diss), I got it accepted to a v well respected national conference (fake it till you make it vibes). Then, I went to Goldsmiths to do a Masters part time across 2 years while working 2 part time jobs – again, not getting a first really stung here because Goldsmiths give you a 30% discount on Masters fees automatically if you got one a 1st from anywhere in your undergrad, so once again it felt like my friends claim that my grade wouldn't make a 'material difference' on my life going forward was sorely wrong. But in the end I really loved doing it PT, and it gave me a lot of time both to develop my thinking and build my confidence back up after what felt like a big set back academically (plus one of my jobs had some relevance to my research so that helped). Got some research I did for a module in first year published in a peer reviewed journal, and graduated in the end with an average of 80 (with a lowest grade of 76 on a group project, and 82 on my diss - which I'm p sure was the highest in the year).
But when it came to applying to PhDs this year, I still couldn't help but shake the feeling that despite all these achievements I'd accrued in the interim, that it was my low 2.i that was going to hold me back from funding. I applied super last minute, I think because I kept putting it off because I couldn't bare the rejection I was v sure was coming, and only contacted supervisors in the last week of December (funding deadlines close in mid-late Jan) after deciding it was better to go for it & at least treat it as a practice run. And, ngl, the supervisors I met with did say it could/would be a problem, but hopefully that the rest could balance it out. Anyway I ended up applying to Leeds, Edinburgh, and KCL (the three places someone replied to my email!), and for ESRC funding at KCL + Leeds, and internal funding at Edinburgh (because I'd missed the scottish research council funding window lol). Anyway, I got offers from all three, and ESRC funding offers from both Leeds and KCL (& at Edinburgh I was in the final shortlist for the internal interview - 9 shortlisted for 3 funded spots).
I guess what I'm trying to say is – not getting that high 2.i or First will probably naturally cut off some opportunities (like it did for me with the Goldsmiths scholarship!), and it is dumb to say that it won't – as you already know from missing these offers. However, it by no means has to determine the course of your life, and you can still achieve things academically. Works the other way too – I know people who got firsts in Oxbridge undergrads & mphils, or who ranked at the top of their cohorts etc, who didn't get funding first time round, or who didn't get into their top choice programmes etc. I know you say it's hard to improve on skillset given it was Classics, but what about looking for conferences you could submit a paper proposal to? Or even events and conferences you could attend.
FWIW, everyone I know who did a MA at UCL hated it. I think someone above said "UCL is all about bums on seats and making as much money as possible" – that definitely was how my friends who went there felt was reflected in how they were treated & the learning environment. Have a think as well about what specifically in Classics appeals to you, sometimes unis with departments that rank less highly overall might offer more skills or expertise in specific areas. I know you say you're a prestige chaser, but the academic world is a bit bigger than that. Goldsmiths obviously isn't the most highly ranked uni lol, but the MA I did there was pretty pioneering & unique (and well renowned for this), and I absolutely loved my MA there and would do it again if I could – tbh starting PhD in September I'm always worried I won't find a learning environment quite like it! Reason I didn't apply for a PhD there was less aligned supervisors to my research focus & the fact I know they v v limited funding lol.