A Guide to Clearing

Clearing has something of a strange reputation. In the media it is often presented as some sort of manic game of university-destination roulette for those forlorn students whose A Level grades didn’t meet their offers, in which young people spend a couple of days frantically trying to talk their way onto a–or even any–university course.

Of course, things aren’t always the way they are portrayed in the media, and Clearing is one of them. For one thing, it’s not just for people who didn’t meet their offers. People who didn’t complete their UCAS applications until after 30th June, didn’t receive any offers either from their original five choices or UCAS Extra, and people who rejected any offers they were made can also find a place at university through Clearing.

The idea that there are only inferior-quality courses to be found through Clearing is also a big misconception. Many of the courses available through Clearing are regarded to be of a very high standard and are taking on students precisely because of those high standards, which have caused them to reject students, either before A Level results day or after students who they did make conditional offers to did not receive their grades. Yes, there are students in Clearing who are looking for and ultimately find places on courses with low UCAS tariff scores; but there are also plenty who are holding grade combinations such as AAB.

People in Clearing, then, shouldn’t believe the media’s sensationalist take on it. Rather than being a scramble for places by underperformers, it’s simply the final stage of the year’s university application cycle, in which students and universities of all different shapes, sizes and standards enter into more direct contact with one another regarding available spots on courses.

If you do find yourself applying for a place through Clearing it’s worth keeping the above in mind, as many people make the mistake of buying into the panic mentality and rushing their choices or botching their attempts at contacting universities.

Here are our suggestions for how to approach Clearing in a way that keeps you sane and will get you on a great course.

Tip one.

Our first piece of advice is for those people who are going to be in Clearing but are not waiting on any exam results. You are in a great position to start preparing for Clearing earlier than the school leavers, as you already know what your grades are. July is a great time to start sizing up different universities and courses, and perhaps even contacting their admissions tutors. Be aware, however, that not all Clearing vacancies will become known until after A Level results as a result of many of them coming about through students failing to make their offers. So don’t feel you have to jump at the first interest you have from any university if A Level results haven’t come out yet and you feel there would be other courses you’d be happier trying to apply for.

Tip 2.

Our second tip–this one’s for anyone who will be in Clearing, and perhaps even anyone who has serious doubts that they will meet the offers from their universities–is to fully understand the Clearing process. The first thing to be aware of is where vacancies are published. In the old days students had to go through enormous lists published in newspapers, but now the UCAS site keeps a database that is regularly updated and includes useful search features. So as a starting point for your Clearing search it’s the place to go.

Things to Understand…

Clearing is a much more direct way of getting into university than the earlier phases of the UCAS application process, as it involves talking to the university staff who control admissions to courses rather than them simply reading your UCAS application and either making an offer or rejecting it. This means that your first port of call for any courses you are interested in is the university itself, and not your UCAS account. You will need to speak to the admissions officer for the course you’re interested in–preferably by phone rather than email as this will give you a better chance to make a good impression, get a sense of whether you’d be happy on their course and be at the front of the queue for a place–and explain to them your interest in the course and your grades. This could potentially include explaining any extenuating circumstances that caused you to get lower grades than you hoped for.

The admissions officer will no doubt also have plenty of questions for you; they also want to make sure that you are right for their course before expressing a willingness to make you an offer. Bear this in mind as the conversation you have will play a role in whether they are interested in you. You must be able to articulate why you want to do their cause and why you think you’d be cut out for it, rather than simply having the attitude that some students unfortunately take of assuming that because they would have met that course’s original entry criteria they should be allowed a place on it.

Speaking to an admissions officer may sound daunting, but it actually has some very positive aspects to it. In addition to having a more direct contact with the people who run the course than other students have had, you may be able to use it to your advantage. If you can make a really good impression on an admissions tutor for a course that has a great reputation but whose normal entry requirements are a bit higher than your own results, it might just be that the enthusiasm and knowledge you put across over the phone could win you a place.

Another dimension to understanding the Clearing process is being aware of the fact that it’s okay to simultaneously be in touch with various universities. Courses do fill up, and it’d be nice for you to have your future arranged sooner rather than later; contacting more than one university at once will allow you to do this by saving you time. When talking to different universities try and get a sense of the different pros and cons they have relative to one another. These don’t just have to relate to the course itself. For example, because this is a late stage in the application process, some universities may be unable to offer you a place in accommodation, and factors such as this are important.

It’s only once an admissions tutor has indicated to you that they would be willing to accept you onto their course and you in turn are sure that you would want to take them up on that offer that you will make a formal approach to them through the UCAS system. Do not apply if one or both of these things is not the case! If you send your application to them through the UCAS system and the university either hasn’t expressed an interest in you or you never contacted them, it’s likely your application will be rejected and you will therefore be wasting your time. To finalize your application you select the relevant course choice using UCAS’s online clearing system and all of your details will be sent to your choice, who should get back to you fairly quickly.

Last tip

Our third tip is a much shorter one, but no less important for it. And it’s this: act swiftly, but not hastily. The best courses do fill up quickest, so it’s essential to be well prepared and contact universities promptly. However, don’t just blindly apply for any available course. This is your future you’re deciding on here, and it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’ll be going to a university where you know you’ll be happy.