Students across the country are planning their next steps as they eagerly await their A Level results on the 15th August! But whether your teenager has already secured a place at University, is taking a gap year or simply hasn’t decided yet – the next few weeks can be vital in securing their future. Sam Banks is Holland Park’s Higher Education Consultant and has many years of experience advising students through every stage of the UCAS process. Here’s his comprehensive guide to Understanding Clearing.
What Is Clearing?
Clearing is a way of applying to study for a degree at UK universities through UCAS that is outside of the normal application process. It exists to allow universities to plug the gaps in any courses that are not full. It also gives students a ‘second chance’ to get onto a suitable course if they have not managed to get a place.
When should I use it?
Clearing opens in July and will formally close in October. It is a post-qualifications service, so you can only apply when you have your final results for the published entry requirements. For some (e.g. gap year or international students) this will be from the Clearing opening date; for others from A level Results Day on 15 August or the equivalent Results Day in the country you have studied in. Always move as quickly as you can as places can be limited and get snapped up fast.
Who can and should use clearing?
Anybody should use Clearing if it’s right for them at that time, there are fantastic courses available out there at very prestigious institutions. You can use it if you have applied through UCAS and do not hold any offers. Sometimes people use it if they have not met the entry requirements for their Firm choice but have changed their mind about their Insurance choice and want to find something in Clearing instead.
How does it work?
You are only allowed to enter one choice on UCAS Track in Clearing, so you need to do your research first. Check the courses available on the UCAS search tool and research course content and structure. Also consider the location and environment of the university itself. I always advise people to approach the university by phone, but nowadays you will often be asked to fill in an enquiry form instead. They will almost certainly want you to send them proof of your qualifications (so be organised and have your official certificates to hand) and they might even want to discuss your application in more detail – almost like a mini-interview. For that reason, make sure you are able to clearly articulate why you have chosen to apply for that course at that university (a Personal Statement can help here if you’ve already got one). If they tell you by email or on the phone that they will make you an offer (you can take them at their word), you can then add that choice in Clearing on UCAS Track and wait for the university to confirm it. I would then suggest you get straight on the phone to the university’s accommodation department, as you might be near the back of the queue for somewhere to live.
What is Clearing Self Release?
If you were already holding a Firm or Insurance offer from a university, then historically you would have needed to ask that university to release you so that you became eligible for Clearing, and that could take several days or even longer. However, starting this year you are able to ‘self-release’ by clicking a button on UCAS Track. This is another step towards putting more power into the hands of the prospective student rather than the Higher Education Institution.
What if I am changing my course of study?
The decision to change your course of study is a serious one that should not be taken lightly. Remember that you have to turn up every day and study that course for at least the next three years, and you really will not be able to fake it for that length of time. However, if your change of heart is a genuine and considered one, then prepare a new Personal Statement in case they want to see one. You also need to check that you meet any subject-specific entry requirements for the new course, such as a science-based A level, for example.
What are your tips for securing a place via Clearing?
Remain optimistic but be realistic: if you are in Clearing, the chances are you have experienced some form of disappointment or rejection, either from universities or because of results. That does not mean you should not continue to aim high and try to secure the best place you can. A phone call to a university with higher published entry requirements than your qualifications is never wasted, and can end in unexpected success. However, at the same time, you need to be open-minded and consider new possibilities that might not have been on your radar before this point.
Be organised and ready. Organised means having exam certificates, academic transcripts, Personal Statement etc. to hand. Ready is to do with how quickly you react on Results Day, as this can be the difference between getting the perfect place and not finding anything you want.
And lastly – what can I do if I’m unsuccessful?
The chances are, you will be able to get something in Clearing. It’s more a question of working out whether what you can get is right for you. Is the course right? Is the university right? If the answer to either or both of these questions is ‘no’, then you probably need to reassess what you want to achieve in life and how you can best go about doing that. That might include taking a year out to improve your qualification profile, either by enrolling in a one-year Foundation course or by re-taking some of your school qualifications.