What is Clearing?
Clearing is a process organised through UCAS each year which allows students who haven’t received any offers, or who have missed the conditions of their firm and insurance choice, a second chance to get a place at university for that academic year. Universities use Clearing to fill any remaining places they have left on their courses after exam results are released.
A full list of Clearing vacancies will be published on the UCAS website (and in The Daily Telegraph) on A-Level results day. Students are expected to contact universities directly to discuss potential course places that can be available for them. A new service introduced last year will allow universities to phone students who opt in to offer places in relevant courses.
Although Clearing runs until October, it is based on a first-come first-serve basis, with most places being filled in the week after A-Level results day – it’s important to act quickly if you wish to apply through Clearing after receiving your results.
On Results Day
For A-Level students, it is essential to check UCAS Track on the morning of results day. Even if you have dropped a grade or two, your firm or insurance choice may still accept you. Only if you have not been placed at either institution will you be eligible to enter Clearing- and if so, this will be clearly displayed on your UCAS Track. You will also be given a Clearing Number - you must keep this number to hand when contacting universities about their Clearing vacancies, which you will want to so as soon as possible once you've received you results and have researched available courses.
Finding a Course
To find related or alternative courses to apply through Clearing, start with UCAS Course Search, which updates regularly throughout results day. It is important to focus on the kind of University you want to attend, what course you want to study and why you want to study it (especially if it's different from your original choice). Check which courses your grades make you eligible for, then use the Universities' websites to research the course content and structure and decide whether it appeals to you. Make a shortlist of the Universities that interest you - including course names and codes.
Once you have contact details for the admissions staff at the Universities you want to apply to, the next step is to talk directly to them about the course you are interested in and whether they will consider your application. Have your Clearing Number, Personal ID and A-Level, AS-Level and GCSE results to hand (and their value as UCAS points), as clearing staff will need to know these. Your Clearing Number will allow admissions staff to view your UCAS application. The call will likely have two stages - first, a member of the Clearing helpline team will answer, and will be ready to discuss results and courses. If there are vacancies and you meet the course requirements, you will be put through to a relevant member of staff (which will most likely be the course admissions administrator), for an interview-like discussion over the phone, resulting in a decision about your application. You can phone as many Universities as you wish, and may well receive verbal offers from several. Remember to keep a pen and paper to hand - you must be ready to note the same of the person to whom you speak and, if a University offers you a place, they will provide you with an institution code, course code, and a strict time limit for which the offer is valid - usually a day or two. Remember, you can hold multiple offers at any one time, so there's no need to stop phoning once you receive your first offer - you can choose which offer to accept later.
Once you have decided which offer to accept, you will need to enter the course details on UCAS Track. You can only formally add one Clearing choice on UCAS Track - and you must have directly discussed your application with the University (and have received a verbal offer) before you do this. Remember, it is essential you enter the details of your final Clearing choice within the time limit specified by University.
Ahead of results day, here are some practical tips to help you prepare for Clearing and increase your chances of securing a place through the process.
• If you’re reading this before results day and are worried you may have missed your offer conditions – it will be beneficial to have a back-up list of universities or courses before you enter Clearing on results day. The Clearing process can be stressful, so the more preparation and information you have beforehand, the better.
• Be flexible whilst searching for available courses – whilst it may be tempting to look for a course identical to the one you originally applied for, consider a joint-honours degree, a foundation year, or courses with a year abroad – these typically have different grade requirements from the ‘main’ course. Try to remember what informed the choice of your original five universities – keep in mind the most important factors to you whilst searching the vacancy listings.
• Try to plan results day to make sure that you are able to call universities from a quiet, relaxed place with access to phone and the Internet.
• Do your research before phoning – you will give a better impression to university admissions staff if you are prepared and well-informed about the course and your application. Re-read your personal statement, have important details to hand (see below), draft on paper answers to questions they are likely to ask, and have a specific course in mind – this will impress staff more than an undecided, unorganised student.
• Treat the phone call as an interview - be prepared for questions about your interests, motivation and experience. Don’t be shy – show your enthusiasm for the course as you would face-to-face, and describe any relevant studies or experiences you have done since writing your personal statement. Ask questions which matter to you about the faculty, campus and accommodation for Clearing students.
• Note, it must be you who talks to the university. Universities are not able to discuss your application with anyone apart from you - not your parents, friends or teachers.
• Keep important details and notes to hand: these include your Clearing number and Personal ID from UCAS Track, your A-Level, AS-Level and GCSE results and module marks, your personal statement, your mobile phone number (it is best to give your mobile number as a contact number if a University wishes to phone you back), your notes on the course and university, notes on responses to expected questions, and any questions you want to ask the University e.g. about accommodation and bursaries.
• Have a pen and blank sheet of paper by your side to write notes throughout the phone conversation. It is easy to forget important details after you hang-up – most importantly, you must remember the time period that your offer is valid. If you’re making multiple calls, use a different sheet of paper for each university. Write down the name and details of who you spoke to (in case you need to call the university again), and write a summary of the conversation after you hang up.
• If you are made an offer, at the end of the call ask for a written confirmation of the offer to be sent to you (preferably by email).
• Be prepared for an engaged tone, or to hold for a while – Clearing is a very busy time for University helplines, so try again later if they’re engaged.
• If a university in which you’re interested is out of spaces when you first call, try to phone again a few hours later. Places become available again as students turn them down – these need to be filled up.
• Have the courtesy to phone back universities from which you are declining an offer – they will be holding a place for you which another Clearing student could take.
• Remember also to sort out accommodation and bursaries in time and inform Student Finance about the new University and course.
Finally, if Clearing doesn’t sound right for you - consider taking a gap year. You can always choose to withdraw, retake and apply again through UCAS to the course you are set on.