A-level results not quite what you were hoping for? Don’t panic! Upwards of 60,000 students secure a university place through Clearing each year, so read on to find out how you could join them…
Clearing is the system that matches students who don’t have a firm offer of a university place, or who have a conditional offer of a university place but don’t get the exam results they need, with suitable higher education vacancies.
In 2016, a total of 535,175 people entered UK higher education according to UCAS, and a record 64,900 of these found a university place through Clearing.
Clearing is available from July to September each year – if you already have your exam results but you have no offers, you can use Clearing from July. If you had conditional offers but your exam results didn’t go to plan, you can use Clearing from A-level, GCE and Advanced Diploma results day (17 August) or Highers and Scottish Baccalaureate results day (9 August) for universities in Scotland.
Who is eligible?
You can enter Clearing if you:
- don’t have a firm offer from any college or university (or none you wanted to accept)
- didn’t meet the conditions of your offers
- applied too late.
If you’ve been entered into Clearing, your UCAS Track status will say ‘You are in Clearing’ or ‘Clearing has started’. If you’ve missed the grades for both your firm and insurance offers but your Track page doesn’t say either of these yet, it might just be waiting for your results to update. Get in touch with the universities/colleges if it’s taking a while – they might still be considering you, even if your results are a bit lower than required.
You will also find your Clearing Number on your Track page, which universities need to access your UCAS application.
Who isn’t eligible?
You will not be eligible for Clearing if:
- a previous offer has already been confirmed because you have met the entry requirements
- you have already accepted a place.
If you missed your firm and insurance offers, but one or both is still showing as conditional on Track, then get on the phone to that university. If they tell you that you will definitely not be offered a place, but it isn’t showing in Track, ask the representative how long it will be before the institution informs UCAS. Likewise, if they say they’re still to decide whether or not to accept you onto the course, find out when they will have made a decision, as you won’t be able to apply to other courses through Clearing while you’re waiting.
If you decide you want to enter into Clearing as soon as possible, you can ask the university in question to reject you, but it might then take a while to show on your Track and for you to enter Clearing and receive your Clearing number. In the meantime, you can still phone universities, but they won’t be able to access your UCAS application until you are officially in Clearing so are less likely make you a formal offer.
If you change your mind about your firm or insurance offer and no longer wish to take up an offer you’ve previously accepted and have made the grades for, then you’ll have to phone the university in question and ask them to release you. It can take up to a couple of days for your release to be processed and your Clearing number to show on Track, by which time many of the places will have been filled, so it’s best to do this prior to results day if you decide that you definitely won’t be accepting one or both of your offers if you get the grades required.
Done better than expected?
If your A-level results are better than expected, you might be able to swap your existing place for one at another uni through UCAS Adjustment. You might well be happy where you are, but with the Adjustment service, it’s possible you could change where you’re studying. So if you’re curious, it’s worth taking a look at what’s available.
Adjustment is available from A-level results day (17 August) until 31 August. It’s entirely optional, and a lot of competitive courses will already be full, but other applicants might have missed their conditions or swapped a course too, so it could be worth seeing what’s available.
If you try Adjustment but you don’t find anything, you’ll still keep the course you gained on results day. You’ll see the option to register for Adjustment in Track. Your original ‘unconditional firm’ choice will be safe while you’re looking for another – you’ll only lose it if you confirm you’d like to go elsewhere and the new university/college adds themselves to your application.
You can find out more about the Adjustment service on the UCAS website.
How Clearing works
In theory, Clearing is an organised, efficient process, but in practice it can feel like a bit of a free-for-all! It’s important to keep a clear head and not get swept away in the ‘first day of the January sales’ feel to the process and start applying for random courses just to get a place at uni.
To make Clearing work for you, you have to be prepared and ready to act if you don’t get the exam results you needed. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the process…
Step 1: Ask for advice
If you haven’t made the grades needed for your firm or insurance offer and you’re not sure what to do next, talk to an adviser at your school or college or call the Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000 or chat to one of their advisers on Facebook or Twitter. Lines are open from 8 August for students in Scotland and from 17 August for those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But don’t leave it too late to start checking out what courses are still available – about half of people using Clearing will be placed by the Monday after results day!
Step 2: See what courses are available
Course vacancies will be listed on the UCAS website, and The Telegraph newspaper will also publish listings twice in print, the first on A-level results day itself, and also lists them on its website and the Telegraph Clearing 2017 app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices.
Consider different subjects to those that you originally applied for, and scan the vacancies listing carefully for courses that interest you. Write them down, along with the contact details for that university. Flexibility is the key here. You might not find a course at your ideal university, or you may not get your first-choice course. But if you are willing to be flexible, you could find a good course for you.
The online list is updated continually – you might not find the exact institution or courses you’re looking for, as many popular courses will already be full, but some might get vacancies later on in the process (for example, if students decide to decline their original offers), so it’s worth checking back.
Step 3: Get talking!
It’s now up to you to contact the universities and persuade them to give you a place. And by you, we mean you and not one of your parents calling on your behalf, as that certainly won’t impress the admissions officer on the other end of the line!
You can call, e-mail, register an interest via a university website or visit the institution in person, but as time is of the essence, talking is best. Don’t expect an immediate answer to e-mails or online form enquiries – university representatives are probably more likely to respond to the ring of a phone over the ping of a busy inbox!
Don’t rush to contact universities – while Clearing places do get snapped up quickly, you’ll only get one chance to make a good first impression. Universities run Clearing hotlines on results day and for some time afterwards, which are often manned by students as well as members of staff. They’ll ask you for your grades, your Personal ID number (which will allow them see your application online) and your Clearing number (which you’ll find on the welcome and choices pages in Track). If they think there might be a suitable place for you, they will usually put you through to an admissions tutor so you can find out more about the course or arrange for someone to call you back.
The tutor will want to find out more about why you’re interested in the course and studying at the university, so think about why you’re applying for the course and prepare answers for any likely questions. It’s also a good idea to refamiliarise yourself with your personal statement, as the tutor will have it on screen and may well ask you about aspects of it. Remember that this is your chance to sell yourself as a candidate for the course and show your passion for the subject. It is also an opportunity to ask any questions that you have about the course and the university as a whole, such as whether there are any places in halls reserved for Clearing applicants.
You may be offered a place straightaway, but if you’re not sure you want to accept it you will usually be given up to 24 hours to mull it over and make your decision before the place is offered to someone else. If a university does make you a verbal offer, ask them to follow it up with a confirmation email, so that you have written proof of the offer. It is also worth asking when you can expect to receive this, and then politely chase this up if it hasn’t turned up within the expected time frame, as many tutors will be really busy fielding calls and making offers. If a university is interested in you but not in a position to make an offer on the spot, they will come back to you to let you know their decision.
While it’s nice to feel wanted, you don’t have to accept the first verbal offer you receive – if you’re not 100% sure that it’s the course or university for you, take a little time to think it over and look around at what else is available before committing to a place. There could well be more than one institution interested in you and your £9,250-a-year fees!
If you’re calling a number of universities and colleges to see if they’d give you an informal offer of a place over the phone, make sure you take notes on all your conversations and jot down the name of the person you spoke to at each institution. It’s also a good idea to give out a mobile or landline number to the admissions tutors you speak to and keep that line free, so you know you’re not missing out on any offers while you’re waiting to be connected to another university.
If you live within striking distance of a university or college that’s offered you a place and you have time to take a look around before accepting the offer, then do so – most will be happy to arrange for someone to show you around at short notice, and it’s by far the best way to get a feel for what a uni or college is really like.
Step 4: Accept an offer
Once you’ve collected informal offers over the phone from the courses and universities/colleges that interest you, it’s time decide which one you want to accept.
Remember, if you’re not happy with the choices on offer, you can always defer your entry for a year and take a year out to improve your grades, study different A-level subjects, gain work experience and do some travelling. Around half of 18-year-olds who don’t get in to university apply again the following year, and around 90% of them get in second time around.
If you’ve decided to accept an offer and you’ve had confirmation from the university that they’re happy to offer you a place, you need to add a Clearing choice in Track. Click ‘Add Clearing choice’ and fill in the course details by the date the university/college gave you on the phone. This counts as you definitely accepting the offer, so if they confirm it’ll show as an acceptance on the choices page of Track and UCAS will send you a confirmation letter. You can only add one choice at a time, but if the university/college doesn’t confirm your place, you’ll be able to add another.
‘If you think you’ll be using the Clearing route to get there, don’t worry – record numbers of students were placed that way last year. Most universities will have some courses with vacancies, including in subjects you might not have considered when first filling out your UCAS application. Universities and colleges will want to talk to you, but remember to prepare and do your research before discussing your options with them.’
Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS Chief Executive
Key dates for Clearing 2017
Here are some of the key dates if you end up going through Clearing:
5 July 2017
- Clearing officially opens on 5 July 2017 and will remain open until late September.
8 August 2017
- Scottish students receive their National 4 and 5, Higher, Advanced Higher and Scottish Baccalaureate exams results, and Scottish universities will advertise some Clearing 2016 vacancies for students who have already received their results.
17 August 2017
- A-level, GCE, and Advanced Diploma results day. Applicants can log in to UCAS Track from 8am (UK time) to see if their place has been confirmed, or if they are eligible to use Clearing.
- Adjustment opens for registration. (If you’ve met and exceeded the conditions of your conditional firm offer, you may be able to use Adjustment to find an alternative course.)
- Clearing vacancies listed in The Telegraph newspaper, app and desktop Clearing vacancy search.
31 August 2017
- The deadline for any remaining conditions to be met – otherwise the uni or college might not accept you.
- Adjustment ends.
20 September 2017
- The final deadline for applications to 2017 courses – applications must arrive at UCAS by 6pm (UK time).
30 September 2017
- The Clearing vacancy search closes (you can still add Clearing choices in UCAS Track, but contact universities and colleges to discuss vacancies first).
23 October 2017
- The deadline for adding Clearing choices and universities or colleges accepting Clearing applicants.
Best of luck with your course search if you end up going through Clearing!
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