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The Ultimate Guide to Clearing

This year’s A Level results are due out on Thursday 18th August, and students up and down the country will finally find out whether they’ve managed to achieve the required grades for the courses they’ve applied for. For those who get the grades they need, August 18th will be a day of celebration as their Higher Education plans begin to fall into place. However, for those who don’t get the grades they were expecting, results day sparks a period of stress, panic, and uncertainty.

If you don’t get the grades you were expecting on the 18th, don’t worry; it’s not the end of the line for you just yet! The UCAS Clearing process helps thousands of students each year to find alternative courses at their university of choice, or their chosen course at an alternative university.

In fact, many students now use Clearing as a means of finding a more suitable course and university for their requirements. So what was once considered a Plan B is now becoming a Plan A for many students; and in the digital age it couldn’t be easier to go through the Clearing process.

We know you’ve got a lot of burning questions about Clearing, so we’ve tried to answer some of the more common ones here...

What is Clearing?

If you didn’t get the grades you were hoping for, Clearing is the best way to find a place on a university course. Clearing is the process used by universities to fill up any vacancies on their courses; after all, the universities are just as keen to get bums on seats as you are to find a suitable degree course. The Clearing process is also a useful opportunity for students to find a spot on a similar course to the one they originally applied for, or to find a course at an entirely different university.

In 2015, over 64,300 students found a place at university via Clearing; this equates to one in eight of all university acceptances!¹ No longer regarded as an option for underachieving students, Clearing is now a valuable method by which to find a university and course that you’ll be happy with for the next three years.

Am I eligible for clearing?

There are several criteria that determine whether or not you are eligible to enter the Clearing process:

  • You haven’t achieved the required grades: This is the most common reason why students enter Clearing. Most universities offer a provisional place on a course based on your achieving certain grades. The university may consider accepting you if you just missed out on the desired grades, so call them first, and if they won’t accept you then you can enter the Clearing process.
  • You change your mind about your original choices: Even if you have achieved the required grades to be accepted onto your firm and/or insurance course choices, you can still turn your back on those choices and enter into Clearing to apply to a different uni or course.
  • You applied before June 30th but don’t have any offers: If you applied to universities before the closing date but haven’t received any offers then you are eligible to enter the Clearing process.
  • You applied to universities after June 30th: If you applied for courses after the deadline you will automatically be placed into Clearing after results day.

How can I prepare for clearing?

If you already know that you’ll be entering the Clearing process...

Clearing opens up on results day, so spend some time prior to that researching the universities and courses that appeal to you. Many universities publish information regarding vacancies a couple of weeks before results day, and they’re open to you contacting them and stating your interest before you receive your results.

As part of your pre-Clearing research it can be extremely helpful to check what the entry requirements are for any course you are considering applying for. Be realistic about the grades you expect to achieve; it’s important to note that just because a course is available to you via Clearing, doesn’t mean the university will have lowered the entry requirements.

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If you weren’t expecting to be going through Clearing...

If you were confident that you had achieved the grades you needed to get accepted by your firm or insurance choice, it can come as a bit of a shock to find out that you didn’t make the grade. Some students can let the stress of the situation lead them into making a panicked decision and ending up on the wrong course. Being entered into Clearing doesn’t mean you have failed, so wipe those negative thoughts from your head and focus your energy on finding a suitable course and location.

In most cases it is easier to decide what you don’t want to do, and narrow down your choices from there. For example if you don’t want to compromise on the location, you’ll need to compromise on the course, and vice versa. This process will leave you with a much smaller list of courses and universities that you are interested in, and will be less likely to lead to a rash decision.

How do I enter Clearing?

Visit the UCAS website to start or track an application. If you have already filled in and submitted your application, you’ll be able to track it by clicking on the link. If you’ve been automatically entered into Clearing your Track status will say ‘You are in Clearing’ or ‘Clearing has started’.

If Track doesn’t display either of these messages yet it might just be waiting for your results to come through before it updates itself. If it seems to be taking a while to update, UCAS advise students to contact the universities as they may still be considering you, even if your results aren’t quite what were required.

If you are entering Clearing without having previously applied through UCAS, you will still need to complete an application and personal statement; the only difference is you won’t be able to select any course choices at the application stage. You will still need to pay the relevant application fee too, which is currently £23 for multiple course applications.

If you have simply changed you mind about your initial firm or insurance university and wish to enter Clearing instead, you’ll need to contact the university and ask them to release you so that you can enter the Clearing system. Without your individual Clearing number you won’t be able to apply for any other courses, so it’s important to make sure they release you promptly.

How do I find a course with Clearing?

There are several ways in which you can search for vacancies once you’ve entered Clearing:

Once you’ve found a course that you’re interested in, the first thing you must do is to contact the university directly BEFORE entering the course in Track! If you enter a course in Track before the university has accepted you, they might reject your application, and you won’t be able to apply for anything else until they reject and release you back into Clearing.

You won’t be able to add a choice to Track until 5pm on results day for this very reason, so use the time leading up to 5pm to phone universities and find a suitable course that is willing to accept you.

Who can I seek advice from?

Entering into Clearing can come as a shock to some students, and it may mean that you’re not thinking straight. Choosing the right university and course for you is not something that you should rush into, so if you’re panicking after getting your results, seek some advice from the following sources:

  • Friends, family, and teachers: Before you leave the school after getting your results, take some time to speak to some of the teachers and see what advice they are able to offer you. They go through this each year with A Level students so they know the drill! It’s also a good idea to speak to your parents and any older siblings, cousins, friends etc who have gone through the process before you. Likewise, chat with your fellow A Level students on results day and find out what their thought processes are, and see what you can learn from them.
  • UCAS: The entire university application process, including Clearing, is organised by UCAS, so if you’re looking for advice on anything to do with Clearing, they are the best people to speak to. There are a variety of ways to contact UCAS so find the best one for you and get in touch with the experts.
  • Learn Direct: They offer useful careers advice which can help you to identify your strengths and help you to choose a course based on the type of career that you have in mind.
  • BBC: The BBC’s website is a hub of useful information for students; visit their ‘Is uni for you?’ page for advice and articles that can help you to decide whether university is really the right path for you to take.
  • The Student Room: This is a useful website and forum for students to seek and share advice, and talk to other students who are, or have been, in the same situation.

What are the alternatives to Clearing?

If you didn’t get the grades that you needed for university, Clearing isn’t the only option available to you. There are a number of other options that might be more suitable for you instead, including:

  • Adjustment: This is an option for students who have met and exceeded their firm offer, but no longer wish to accept their first choice university. It means you can hold onto your firm choice whilst looking around for a better offer.
  • Record of Prior Acceptance – AKA Direct Entry: This tends to be the preferred method of mature students who either want to study locally, or are applying late but have a clear idea of what they want to study. Applications are made direct to the university rather than via UCAS; however, not all institutions will let you apply in this way.
  • Taking a gap year: You have the right to withdraw your application at any time before you start university, and can take a year out from education and re-apply for entry on a course the following year. If you have any doubts as to where you want to go, or what you want to study then take this year to have a good think about how whether university is for you, and if so, which one. Tuition fees are not cheap, so don’t squander that money away on a course that won’t enhance your life in any way!
  • Re-sit your A Levels: If you didn’t get the grades you needed to get into university you could ask to re-sit them and reapply for courses for the year after. Speak to your college to find out whether this is an option that they offer.
  • Do an apprenticeship: The process of being rejected from your firm and insurance universities can make some students stop and realise that doing a degree is not actually what they want to do. There are a wide variety of apprenticeships available across almost every industry, so whatever interests you, you’re sure to find an apprenticeship to suit your needs.

Getting your A Level results and finding out that you didn’t get the grades you had hoped can be a scary and confusing time. If you’ve suddenly found yourself in the Clearing process and feel like a fish out of water, let us help you to make some sense of things and find a course and university that are right for you!