What You Need To Know About Clearing

The 2014 A Level results are due out on August 14th which means an end to several months of worrying for many students as they get into their chosen universities. However, for those who didn't get the desired grades it sparks a period of confusion, stress, and panic as their dream seems to slip away from them.

But all is not lost for these students; the UCAS Clearing procedure can help students to find a suitable course at university. Clearing is a way for universities to fill any remaining spaces on courses that start in September, and it gives students a second chance when plan A didn't quite work out.  Read on as we guide you through how and when to go through the clearing process...

Am I eligible for clearing?

When the A Level results are released you'll need to check UCAS Track to find out the status of your initial firm and insurance offers to find out which ones have been confirmed and which have been unsuccessful. 

If all of your applications have been unsuccessful then you are entered into clearing, which means you need to check the UCAS list of universities and courses with places available and contact each one directly to find out if they will accept you. The Telegraph also publish the clearing list too.

How to prepare for clearing

If you already know that you'll be going through clearing - you can start to research universities and courses that appeal for you, and begin to contact them. Some universities may publish vacancy information a few weeks before results day so it's worth checking and contacting them to state your interest before the results come out.

Remember to check the entry requirements of any course you want to get onto through clearing, and be realistic about the grades you expect to achieve. Just because a course is available to you through the clearing process, doesn't mean the entry requirements will be lower.

If you weren't expecting to be in clearing - it can come as quite a shock, and some students can end up making rash decisions due to the stress of the situation. Just because you're in clearing doesn't mean you have failed, so try not to dwell on it for too long as there are decisions to be made and you need a clear head to make them!

It's usually easier to figure out what you don't want to do rather than thinking about what you do want to do. Think about the location of the university, the course content, and the cost, and decide on things you definitely don't want to do, which should leave you with a fairly condensed list of universities you like and courses that appeal to you. It's much better to do it this way rather than panicking and accepting an offer from a university or course that isn't suitable for you.

Every A Level student hopes and prays that their months of hard work will pay off and results day will be a day of celebrations. For some students, however, their hard work just wasn't quite enough to secure a firm offer from their chosen university, and all of a sudden they find themselves faced with the daunting prospect of clearing.

Earlier in the guide to clearing we looked at how to tell whether you're eligible for clearing, and what you can do to prepare for the process and ensure it goes smoothly. In this second and final part we're going to guide you through how to actually enter clearing, who to seek advice from, and what to do if you don't think clearing is the right option for you right now...

How to enter clearing

If you have made your UCAS application within the current academic year, have not withdrawn it, and have paid the full £22 UCAS application fee then you are eligible to use clearing. If you've only paid £12 for a single choice application then you'll need to pay a further £11 to UCAS to use the clearing service.

  • If you were unsuccessful with your firm and insurance offers your UCAS Track should reflect this, and your clearing number should already appear, meaning you are already in clearing. However if you missed your firm and insurance offers but one of them decides to accept your lower grades then you need to be released from the place before you can enter clearing.
  • If you have missed your firm or insurance offers but one or more are still showing as conditional then you'll need to contact the university directly to find out what is going on. If they are still deciding then ask them for a timescale on the decision; they aren't allowed to keep you waiting too long as it prevents you from applying elsewhere. If they drag their feet you can request that they reject you in order to release your clearing number in Track.
  • If you change your mind and no longer wish to go to your firm or insurance university then you need to contact them and ask them to release you so that your clearing number is generated. Without this number you cannot apply to any other universities so don't linger if you know you want to apply elsewhere.
  • If you are not holding any offers, or have applied after June 30th then you will be automatically placed into clearing and you should have your number by mid-July.

What to do once you're in clearing

Once you've entered into clearing you'll need to check the UCAS website for their comprehensive list of available courses and universities, and start contacting the ones you are interested in to see if they will accept you. 

You can approach as many universities as you like and receive more than one verbal offer over the phone, but you can only enter one clearing choice on Track. This means you can shop around a bit and take a little bit of time to weigh everything up and decide what is the best possible option for you before committing to it via Track.

It's really important that you don't enter a clearing choice on Track until the university have made you an offer, otherwise they may just reject you, and until they do that you can't apply anywhere else!

Some universities may accept lower grades, but don't enter into clearing expecting this. If you didn't get the required grades you may have to lower your sites a little and choose a different course at your chosen university, or find the course you want at a different university.

The best way to contact universities is by phone, but many will let you register your interest via their website or email too. Remember, you can't add your clearing choice to Track until after 5pm on results day as the button won't appear until then. So use the time before 5pm to phone around and do your research to make sure you're making the right choice!

Who to seek advice from

If you weren't expecting it then entering into clearing can come as a huge shock, meaning that you might not be thinking straight and may need some help in reaching a decision. There are a few places you can get advice from: 

  • People close to you like your teachers, parents, and friends who are going through or have gone through the same thing.
  • UCAS – they are the ones who know exactly how the clearing process works so if you have any questions then check their contact page and get in touch with them.
  • Learn Direct – they offer careers advice and can help you to choose a course or university based on the type of career you are aiming for.
  • BBC – there's a lot of useful information for students on the BBC's website, such as their ‘Is uni for you?' page.
  • The Student Room – A useful website and forum for students to obtain advice and talk to other students in the same situation.

Alternatives to Clearing

If you don't think that clearing is the right option for you right now then there are some alternatives:

  • Adjustment – To be eligible for adjustment you need to have met and exceeded your firm offer, so this will only apply if you no longer wish to accept your first choice university. It enables you to hold onto your firm choice whilst looking around for a better offer.
  • Record of Prior Acceptance – AKA Direct Entry – This method is favoured by mature students who want to study locally or are applying late but with a clear idea of what they want to study. The application is made direct to the university rather than applying via UCAS, but not all institutions will let you apply in this way.
  • Taking a gap year – At any time before starting university you have the right to withdraw your application, take a year out from education, and re-apply for the following year. If you are in any doubt as to what or where you want to study then take this year to have a good think about how you'll spend your tuition fees, as they're not exactly cheap to be messing around with!