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University Clearing guide 2018

Didn't get the grades for your chosen uni? Clearing is your second bite at the cherry - and could leave you with a sweeter deal to boot.

clearing guide

Credit: City of Stoke On Trent Sixth Form College - Flickr

In 2017, just under 60,000 students found a place through Clearing according to UCAS.

The majority of those students report that doing so had little impact on their overall university experience, with Which? reporting that 83% of students who went through Clearing were satisfied with their choice.

However, we've also spoken to students who regret rushing their course choice during Clearing, and wish they'd taken more time to think through their options.

For the happiest outcome we'd recommend some solid research and preparation. Stick with us and we'll show you how Clearing works - and how best to work it to your advantage.

What is UCAS Clearing?

what is clearing

Credit: Lauren Mitchell - Flickr

If you miss the UCAS deadline or don't make the grades needed to get into your firm or insurance choice universities, you can use a service called Clearing to grab spots at universities that have spaces to fill. Essentially, it's a second chance to get a place at university.

The process is a lot quicker and more fluid than your initial UCAS application - it involves calling up universities to enquire about places, selling yourself over the phone and sometimes doing a quick telephone interview.

Once you've got a university place through Clearing, you'll be treated exactly the same as any other student. In fact, it's likely that no one will even know you got your place this way, so there's no need to be worried about those lower grades.

When is UCAS Clearing 2018?

Clearing officially runs between 5th July and 23rd October this year, but most Clearing places don't become available until A Level results day (16th August 2018) and Scottish Highers results day (9th August 2018).

Results day for International Baccalaureate students is 5th July 2018, and most BTEC and vocational course students will get their results sometime in July. So while you can start looking for courses as soon as you want, you might want to wait until mid-August to get the most choice.

If you think your exams went badly, and you've convinced yourself there's no way you're going to meet your grades for you firm or insurance choice, you might be tempted to apply through Clearing before results day - but we'd advise against this.

There's a chance you'll do better than expected, and even if you do miss your grades (especially if it's just by one grade), sometimes universities will offer you a place anyway, so it's best to know for sure before you make any rash decisions. However, regardless of how well you think you've done, we would advise you prepare for Clearing before results day.

Who can apply through UCAS Clearing?

who can apply through clearing

You're eligible for Clearing if 'Add clearing choice' appears in your UCAS Track Choices screen. If you've missed your grades but don't see this option, give your universities a call - they may still be considering you.

If you only just miss out on the required grades (for example, you get AAB instead of AAA), then there's still a good chance your university might accept you. As such, you should always ring up your choices to check first before you dive into Clearing.

You can apply through Clearing if any of the following apply to you:

  • You didn't get the required grades to meet your firm or insurance choice
  • You missed the UCAS application deadline on 30th June, and therefore haven't received any offers
  • You've changed your mind about your chosen course or university and want to apply for something else.
Exceeded your grade requirements and want to see if there's something better out there? You can apply through Adjustment instead.

How to prepare for Clearing

Even if you wait until results day to decide whether you need or want to apply through Clearing, you should still spend some time preparing for it just in case.

Things move pretty fast once you've got your results, so it's important you've thought about what your contingency plan is going to be. We'd recommend the following:

  • Make a list of some possible courses and unis you'd like to apply to (and prioritise them)
  • Jot down contact details for unis and departments too (although unis often run special Clearing helplines on and after results day)
  • Sign up for the UCAS Direct Contact service (they should send you an email to do this). This will allow universities to directly contact you to offer you places after results day
  • Do some practice interviews - if you had to attend admission interviews previously, think about the kind of questions you were asked then. If not, think about why you're passionate about your course or university, and what previous experience you have in the area.

advice for ClearingNo one really prepared me to think about what I would do if I didn’t get into any of my chosen unis.

I applied to study Biology, but I started to panic, just thinking I need to find somewhere because everyone else had got into their unis. At one point I even started thinking I might do Law.

I wasn’t sure whether to change course to try and get into the same uni, or stick with the course and go to different uni.

My advice would be to make sure you have a set plan in your mind before results day about what you want to do if you don’t get your place.

Daniel, studied Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sunderland


Finding a course through UCAS Clearing

find course clearing

It's easy for the panic and adrenaline to set in on results day, and many students feel the pressure to grab any university place they can get. But there's no point in rushing into a course or university which isn't right for you - it's three years of your life after all.

Take some time (both before and after results day) to decide which universities or courses to apply for. Talking through your options with your school or college's adviser is no bad thing, either.

Be open-minded about both the course and university. Most top universities will have Clearing places (although they'll get snapped up fast), but it's more important to choose somewhere that suits you than it is to choose somewhere just because it's perceived well by others.

If you're worried that getting a place on your chosen course might be competitive, consider combining it with another subject to do a joint degree instead - this will broaden your options substantially.

Before you commit to anything make sure you consider the following:

  • The course specifics: entry requirements, placements, the type of degree you'll get, and any extra course costs or supplies you'll need. Also look at how the course is assessed - if it's mainly essay-based and you hate writing essays, then you might struggle
  • Uni features: location, accommodation, teaching, facilities, social aspects. Try not to get too hung up on league tables, but make sure the university offers what you want
  • Don't forget the local area, too - if it involves moving to the opposite end of the country, you'll have to factor in the travel costs to get home for the holidays.

Where to find vacancies

Your first port of call when it comes to finding Clearing places should be UCAS - they have live updates of which places are available at unis around the country, with the ability to both search and browse.

Beyond that, check individual university websites, as they'll have accurate and up-to-date information on any vacancies - target the unis you picked out as part of your preparation.

However, it's important to be aware that some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, or some courses, such as Medicine, are unlikely to offer Clearing places at all.

Step-by-step guide to applying through UCAS Clearing

applying through clearing

Credit: Nickelodeon


Although you shouldn't panic and rush into accepting the first place you're offered, spots are handed out on a first come first served basis, so don't hang around when it come to calling up universities.

And definitely don't book any holidays abroad around results day! The last thing you want to be doing is racking up call charges by calling unis from abroad.

Make sure you call the universities yourself (they won't be impressed if you mum calls on your behalf), and remember that lines will be incredibly busy so you might have to wait on hold for a while - but don't give up! Check university Facebook and Twitter feeds for live updates on the phone line situation.

Clearing can be a bit of slog, and you might find yourself having to call a whole bunch of unis, but you'll find your dream place eventually. Here's how to do it:

  1. Results day: Check your UCAS account for any status updates and to see if you made the grades for any conditional offers
  2. If you didn't make the grade: Contact your chosen unis first - they may still be able to offer you something
  3. Choose your ideal unis/ courses: Once you've identified subject areas which suit you, get searching for vacancies. Places may go quickly so don't hang around if you see something you like the look of - get in touch with the uni as soon as you can
  4. Contact your new choices: Some universities will have help lines open from 8am on results day (they may be jammed, so don't give up if you don't get through first time)
  5. Keep your phone switched on: If you sign up to the UCAS Direct Contact service (which you should!) universities might call you to offer you a place, so make sure your phone is fully charged and near you at all times
  6. Have your details to hand: Universities will want your UCAS points and your Clearing number or ID. Use our checklist below to make sure you've got everything
  7. Be prepared for a mini-interview: Some universities might want more than just your details. They might expect a quick phone interview too, so be ready to talk about why you think this uni's a good choice for you, what you can contribute and why you like the subject (check out our phone interview tips here!)
  8. Get your offer: If it all goes to plan, you should find yourself with a provisional offer. You then need to add the university's details into your Clearing choices on your UCAS account. Wait for official confirmation of your new place by letter/ online alert
  9. Do your victory dance ?: Off to uni? Get the lowdown on what's to come: what to take to unisurviving freshers' week and getting your head around uni life!

university Clearing storiesDon’t make any rash decisions! Don’t go to uni just because all your friends are going if it isn’t the right course for you - your time will come, and you will have other opportunities.

And thoroughly research the course before applying - I thought my course would be mainly essay and theory focused, but it ended up being maths, stats and science - none of which I had a background in! I dropped out after 18 months.

Beth, studied Environmental Geoscience at Cardiff University


If you haven't already paid the full fee (i.e., you only made a single course application for £13), you'll need to stump up an additional £11 to use Clearing or Adjustment.

Tips on calling universities

call universities clearing

Credit: Columbia

In addition to our more general guide to acing phone interviews, here's some more Clearing-specific tips to consider before you jump on the line:

  • This is your chance to shine: Treat this like a job interview and prepare your best bits before you hit the phone (and keep your CV and personal statement to hand in case you need a prompt!)
  • Know your stuff: You don't need to know the entire course inside out, but make sure you at least have a vague idea of what modules you'll be doing and what makes this course different from others
  • Sell yourself: Make a list of why this course is a good match for you and your future ambitions. Talk up your best bits and try to sound positive
  • Prepare questions to ask them: This is a super quick way to impress your interviewer and demonstrate your interest in the course
  • Think about why you didn't make the grades: They might ask you this, so prepare an honest answer, and be up front about any weaknesses you need to work on - this shows them you've learnt from your experiences and want to improve.

The first thing students must remember when applying to clearing is that they must make the calls themselves — because of data protection regulations, universities can’t speak to your friends and family on your behalf.

Before results day, spend some time practising what you might say on the phone to the Admissions team — sound positive about the course you’re applying for and think of any questions you may want to ask to help you make your decision.

Northumbria University


Clearing checklist - What will you need?

Before you grab the phone and start dialling, there's a few things you should make sure you have to hand - grab them and you're ready to go!

  1. UCAS number
  2. Clearing number (this will appear on your UCAS application when you become eligible for Clearing on results day)
  3. Your A Level grades/ UCAS points and GCSE grades (If you didn't make the grade in a particular A Level subject, a strong GCSE grade might help)
  4. A pen and paper to make notes and jot down contact details
  5. Your CV and personal statement (to help you answer potential interview questions).

Clearing UKDon't rush your decision because you’re freaking out about not having a place.

Do as much research about the course as you can and don't worry about your grades - it sucks if you don't get what you want, but it won't affect your life. I've had 11 jobs and have never been asked what grades I got at A Level once.

Nicole, studied English and Media at the University of Portsmouth


You might still have the opportunity to go on a university open day after going through Clearing or Adjustment. That way you'll get a feel for the university before freshers' week.

What to do once you've accepted your Clearing place

So you've braved the perils of Clearing and come out of it with a place on a university course you're happy with. Firstly, congratulations!

But the fun doesn't stop here. There's a couple of things you'll need to sort out pretty quick to make sure you have a smooth start to university in September:

  1. Sort your accommodation - Most universities guarantee accommodation in halls to students who apply before a certain date, but if you get your place through Clearing you might miss out on this. Some universities will have spare spaces in halls, but others might direct you towards private halls or landlords instead. Contact the university accommodation office ASAP for more info
  2. Update Student Finance - Your new university place might mean you receive a different amount of Maintenance Loan (if you're moving to London or staying at home, for example), so update Student Finance to ensure you get all the money you're owed.

Alternatives to Clearing

what is the supermarket downshiftGoing to uni isn't a one-size-fits-all route - you've got options whatever you decide.

If you still want to go to uni

Missed your grades, but not keen on Clearing?

  1. Ring the university that declined your offer and ask if there's any way that you could still attend (perhaps by accepting a foundation year or joint course instead). It's rare to get in this way, but could definitely be worth a go
  2. Ask for an A Level remark or appeal. If you think you were unfairly graded then talk to your school or college about whether a remark is a good idea. Once again, though, this won't guarantee you a place.

Alternatives to university

If you missed out on your firm and insurance choices, you might decide that university isn't for you at this moment in time.

You've got tonnes of options - try one, try 'em all, or do something completely different. Your call!

For example, you could...

  1. Get a head start by going straight into employment
  2. Re-take your A Levels
  3. Have a gap year (which will also make you more employable in the long-run)
  4. Start your own business!
If you are off to university, make sure you know these 23 things grads wish they'd known in their first year!

Got questions, or want to share your top tips and triumphs? Let us know below. Good luck!

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