UCAS Listing: Clear your way to the offer of a lifetime

Admissions tutor Bob Langridge, of Oxford Brookes, explains why second-best may turn out to be the best choice of all
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The Independent Culture
If you've lost your university place, remember that Clearing exists for people like you. At best, it is a pain; at worst, you are shell-shocked; but now is the time to get on with the rest of your life. Whatever your results, you can ensure you are one of the many people who, two or three years on, say how pleased they are they did not go to their first choice of university.

If you are convinced you know what you want to study and it is a popular subject, move as quickly as you can. Identify your next-best universities and get on the phone.

But if you really are not sure what you want to do next, do not commit yourself to any old course just to get a university place. This is a chance to re-evaluate what you really want to do.

Listen to the opinions of people who know you and take professional advice from your careers office; but remember, at the end of the day it is your life and your decision.

If you have set your heart on a particular university, by all means see what courses still have vacancies there. But, no matter how wonderful the place might be, you still have to take the subject.

Universities have places at this time of year for a variety of reasons. It is not a sign of poor quality: for example, in Brookes' school of planning there are two new courses which have spaces because they have only just been validated and are not widely publicised. Yet the school scored top marks - 24 out of 24 - in the official assessment of teaching quality. Some institutions and some courses are more popular than others - the sciences and engineering, in particular, experience a national shortage of applicants.

Remember it is much better to make phone calls yourself.

Have all the papers to hand - your reference, UCAS application number, Clearing entry form and, perhaps, a brief reminder of key points you want to make to the tutor. If you do have to ask a parent to ring up, make sure there is a good reason why. One parent told Brookes last year: "I'm calling on my son's behalf because the lazy so-and-so's still in bed." It did not impress us.

If you are seriously interested in a university you have not seen, try to visit it. Consider whether it offers most of the other things you are looking for - facilities, location, social life.

It is important to get your reference right and to have it prepared beforehand. This is one of the key pieces of information admissions tutors will look for.

My pet hate is the "has a bubbly personality" comment - does it mean she is an avid socialite or has a stomach disorder?

If you are only just deciding to go to university and are not yet in the UCAS system, all is not lost. Ring the Clearing hotlines run by universities.

One final tip: if you lose your Clearing form, the replacement will not arrive overnight - and the old excuses are no more effective at university than at school.