`Er... where is Heriot-Watt?'

Universities aren't impressed by the "A-Z" approach to clearing
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Admissions officers taking telephone calls from would-be students looking for places through the clearing scheme firstly want to know the grades the students have achieved. However, they look for rather more than just grades.

Pat McLean, Admissions Officer at Heriot-Watt University, says she looks for "evidence of students having done some research" and that they have some knowledge of the university. She is not impressed by students who appear to be "going through from A to Z" or those who need to ask "where is Heriot-Watt?"

James Brown, Head of the Admissions Office at the University of Glasgow, also advises students to do some research before blindly `phoning up institutions". He continues: "We are not looking for people just to fill vacancies ... We prefer applicants who have thought about the type of course. We look for a commitment to the subject area ... We want to know why they are applying to us, if they have read our prospectus, and what differentiates us from other universities. We also want to know why have they not applied for another course with lower entry grades." He also asks "why they think they didn't get the grades expected?"

At Stirling University, Kate Davidson, the Admissions Officer, knows that "students will be phoning around another 200 institutions looking for a place!" Apart from having the right grades, she wants to know "do they really want to come to Stirling? And do they know where Stirling is?" Her approach is different from some others.

She says it is often difficult to know if students are genuinely enthusiastic, so "we tell them a lot about the course". It is less a matter of "what we are trying to get from them, more what we are telling them. Do they know what the course is all about? Do they know that we are a campus university and not in the city centre?"

She adds: "We take time to chat to them and make sure they make an informed decision. We don't want people who come and find that they've made a mistake and perhaps drop out."

Stan Farrow, Assistant Director of Admissions at St Andrews, highlights the need for students to tell the university when they phone of any disabilities or special needs. "We don't want to put someone with a hearing difficulty into a hall of residence without a flashing fire alarm." Some fear that admitting a disability will prejudice their application. But, he says: "If a student with special needs applies to us, we make an offer on academic grounds and then discuss whether or not we can meet their needs."

What does not impress Mr Farrow are "the people who almost try to blackmail their way into university. For example `my father was an alumnus and has given you pounds X thousand, or I've spoken to professor so and so'. You get quite nasty conversations with some people. They get told `this isn't going to work'."