Parents' Guide: Clearing applications should be approached like a war campaign- with determination

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CLEARING IS a tricky process: the successful applicant needs not to panic and not to rush in to making decisions about a future course and career. But speed is of the essence...

If you are pretty certain of poor grades, some universities will talk to you about possible vacancies the day before you get your results.

Otherwise, start ringing round the day they arrive, but be prepared: it is a good idea to have already drawn up a plan of campaign, listing possible universities and courses.

Be persistent. Clearing is a considerably quicker process than it used to be and phone lines may well be jammed in the early days. Coventry University, for instance, received 2,000 calls on the first day of clearing last year, so keep on trying.

Many universities will take calls over the weekend, too.

Have your Clearing entry form number (once it arrives) available during these calls.

Remember that published vacancy information quickly goes out of date, so do not set your heart on a particular vacancy - new ones will appear all the time.

Students must make the phone calls themselves: do not let your parents do it for you! Show admissions tutors that you are serious and enthusiastic about your subject. Be ready to say why you are interested in a particular course and ask intelligent questions about its structure or content.

Do not say - as some students do - "what have you got vacancies in?". This giving the impression you are so desperate you will take virtually anything. This will not impress admissions tutors. "We want some firm answers as to why they want a particular course," says Ray Hulse, who co-ordinates Clearing for Coventry University. "We need the students to have done the groundwork and we do not expect to be selling a course over the phone."

Do not close your mind to options which differ slightly from your original application - for instance a combined course or, if your grades are very low, a higher national diploma. But do not say yes to an offer unless you're really sure that the course interests you. If it does not, the chances are you will not stick it out - and you will be taking up a place someone else could use.