Strike up a strategy: Karen Gold looks at the rewarding modular course options available to students with a flexible approach

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The Independent Online
The annual chase for university and college places in clearing is now well under way - but those who are still hunting may find that it pays to spend a bit of the first weekend thinking through your strategy, and the possibility of alternative courses.

Universities had up until last Friday to make their final decisions about whether to reject people. Since you cannot have a clearing number until you are definitely rejected, many candidates will only now be preparing to enter the process. Equally, many admissions tutors will only now know whether they have vacancies on their courses, so it is quite likely that a number of courses which have not appeared in the listings this week will appear next week.

If a course in the vacancy listings appeals to you, contact the university or college to make sure the tutors will consider you. You must quote your clearing entry number when you call. If they want you, they will tell you how to send in your clearing entry forms. Make sure that you know what the course really comprises, preferably by comparing its listing code against a prospectus. If possible, follow up your first contact by visiting the university that interests you, complete the forms there, and try and talk to course or admissions tutors.

A high proportion of the courses available in clearing are newly created degrees, those which combine two or more subjects, or courses which are built up from a variety of study units, usually called 'modules'.

Grades required for combined courses may be higher than last year, but they are still often lower than for single subject courses. At Bradford University, for example, a maths and management course has been offering places for two grade D A-levels, whereas straight management courses are inaccessible to anyone with those grades.

Supposing you want to study French or German? And, perhaps, add a new language as well? At Thames Valley University, applicants for applied language studies with two language A-levels must have two Cs. But because fewer people have the courage to apply to start another language from scratch, they ask applicants with one language A-level for two Ds.

Disappointed entrants for teacher training may also find hope here. Bachelor of Education courses, which have in the past taken candidates with the lowest A-level grades, are more competitive this year. But a four-year BEd is not the only route into teaching: universities increasingly offer three-year honours degrees in something-plus-education. With carefully chosen subjects this can be followed by a one-year postgraduate teaching certificate (PGCE).

Although new courses sometimes take a little time to settle down, they can be the most exciting, because they have usually been developed by keen and committed staff in response to changes in the outside world. You will not find them in the prospectus, but their vacancies will be advertised in the Ucca/Pcas listings, and the universities will send you details if you ring for them.

But the widest opportunities remain in the uninspiringly titled modular or combined studies degrees. People are often put off applying for them because they think they may end up studying a hotchpotch. Not so. Most modular or combined studies degrees offer two or three subjects in the first year, one or two in the second and third.

Your main subject will remain the same throughout - unless you decide to change it. You can usually pursue the same minor subjects in greater depth or try out new ones. 'It means people can sample things in the first year and then increase the amount of the subjects they prefer later on,' says John White, deputy vice-chancellor of Wolverhampton University, where the modular scheme offers 50 different combinations.

As a last resort, if there are no places left in your favourite subject as a major component of a modular degree, you may still be able to start with that subject as a minor component. People who are desperate to study psychology, for example, will find that access to psychology courses is virtually unattainable by now. But if you are prepared to combine psychology with, say, Russian, Wolverhampton is almost certain to have places.

At this stage an open mind and a spirit of adventure are the best policy, says Mr White: 'Most students aren't purists. Obviously we have conversations with applicants where we test out how committed they are to their main subject and what the peripheral areas of their interest are. But, in my experience, if we can offer them something close to what they wanted, then they'll seize that and go for it.'

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