CLEARING: A perfect match

Go through the Clearing process and the rollercoaster of emotions will end on a high
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The Independent Online

If you find yourself in Clearing this week, there is a good chance that you can find a place at a university or college where you will be really happy. Last year nearly 43,000 applicants found places this way.

If you find yourself in Clearing this week, there is a good chance that you can find a place at a university or college where you will be really happy. Last year nearly 43,000 applicants found places this way.

HOW DOES CLEARING WORK?

Universities and colleges inform UCAS daily how many unfilled places they have on each course. UCAS then arranges for this information to be published on its own website and in certain newspapers, including The Independent. The places are filled by people like you contacting the institutions direct to enquire about vacancies.

If you need Clearing – and UCAS staff will know if you do – you will be sent a Clearing Entry Form (CEF) which is pre-printed with your personal Clearing Entry Number and cannot be used by anyone else, plus full instructions. It is very important that you tell UCAS if you have changed your address!

STEP BY STEP

Check first to see whether you have been accepted! Institutions often take people who are just a point or two down. Use the UCAS online applicant enquiry service to check what has happened to your application. You have probably used this service during the year. Go to the UCAS website home page and give your applicant number and password.

If it's bad news, get going. It won't be bad for long! Most people are happy at the place they eventually go to. All three of the case study students on these pages certainly were.

The first thing to do is get hold of a vacancy list (see page 5 for details of where to find them). You can now make a list of courses that you might like. You will need to look at the entry grades required and see whether you have them. You could perhaps enlist a friend or relative to help you search. Dana Barrett relied heavily on her sister for support and says she doesn't know how she would have coped without her.

If your original course now looks out of reach, try looking for something similar – for example a joint course that includes a large amount of your original subject or a course with a similar content but a different title. You could for instance think about English with religious studies, environmental studies with computing or geography and heritage management if these courses are showing vacancies.

Next, make a shortlist in order of preference and then contact your first choice. You might be connected to a Clearing helpline or to an admissions tutor for the course. Helpline staff will either be asking people for their grades, then putting them through to a course tutor OR they might be authorised to offer places. Do make use of the helpline staff and ask any questions you need to. Many of them are the university or college's own students working there for the summer. They should be able to tell you a lot about the place.

But it is the admissions tutor who can tell you all about the course. Do ask any questions of them too. Many have sons and daughters your age and will know how worried you are. They will ask questions, though, so be prepared for a mini interview on the phone.

If the first place you ring doesn't make you an offer or you are not happy, ring somewhere else. And then somewhere else. It will get easier once you have found the right course, you need to enter the details on the CEF and send it to the institution. They will confirm to UCAS that they have offered you a place.

AN ADMISSIONS TUTOR

Dr Mick Measor, an admissions tutor in Leicester's Computer Science Department advises students not to panic at this time of year. In his experience, students anxious to secure a place can all too easily make a leap in the dark.

"They still have options," he says. "There will be more than one place out there. They need to be sure that the course is right." He points out too that admissions tutors are human! "I'm not judge and executioner. I see my role as advising and helping rather than selling my department. Other admissions tutors would say the same. We all know that they are probably trying other places before making a decision. It is not in our interests to snap up the wrong people.

"When students come through to me I'll ask what they originally applied for. If it was computer science, I'll take it as read that they are committed to that subject and I'll ask about reasons for choosing Leicester instead. If not, I'll want to know that they are not clutching at straws. I won't mind if they originally applied for medicine or another competitive subject – as long as they can convince me that computing or even IT has always been a subsidiary interest and they have taken the trouble to find out what our course involves."

TIPS FROM DR MEASOR

* Ring yourself. Don't ask a parent to do it. "I want to hear about your interests and your reasons for choosing my subject!"

* Make sure that you are put through to the department. This may take some time. We are all busy. Persevere.

* Show commitment to the course.

* Be ready to explain why you think your grades were lower than hoped.

* Make every effort to visit before accepting.

CASE STUDIES

Robin Heason
A-levels: theatre studies (E), electronics (E). From: Keyworth, Nottinghamshire. Degree: BA international relations (2.1) University of Lincoln, plus a Master's in global security (Keele). He works for HM Customs and Excise in London

On the day the A-levels came out, I went into school. We were told that our results would be in envelopes and for those with bad news there would also be letters, telling us how to get advice. I saw them slip one into my envelope and my heart went through the floor. I don't mind admitting I was in tears.

I rang my mother who came to get me. On the way home we heard an advertisement on the car radio from the brand new Lincoln campus (of the then University of Lincoln and Humberside). She turned the car round and drove straight there.

We found our way to Marketing and I picked up some course leaflets. I'd never considered international relations, although it was something that interested me (I had applied for theatre studies). I was put on the phone to a tutor at the Hull campus who asked about my GCSEs and what I thought had gone wrong with my A-levels. I think what impressed him was my positive attitude! He said: "You've had a big disappointment today yet you've made a rapid turnaround." And I was willing to be a pioneer in a new institution. I was offered a place, through it .

Dana Barrett
A-levels: English (E), government and politics (E). From: Homerton, East London. Degree: BA European area studies (2.2) University of Bradford. She is about to do a year's voluntary work, teaching English in China and hopes to train to be a teacher after that

"When I got my results, I rang my firm choice university (the only offer I was holding) and was told I had been rejected. I had no idea what to do. I always take problems to my older sister who is much calmer than I am! So I rang her office which was near my school. She told me to come at once and to buy The Independent because the vacancy lists would be in there. She really calmed me down and helped. She'd had to accept her conditional offer and she told me I was lucky because I could now choose anywhere in the country. She was right.

There was lots of choice. I made a few phone calls to check entry grades, then went away to read prospectuses. I made a list of four places. The first one I rang (about two days later) was Bradford. The person on the helpline was so friendly and reassuring and told me a lot about the university and the town. So, even though I was unable to go to the Clearing open day, I decided to take the plunge and accept a place.

It was the right decision. I was very happy there. I'm about to do a year's voluntary work, teaching English in China and I hope to train for teaching in 2003.

Russell Shone
A-levels: business studies (D), sports science (D), accounts (E). From: Colwyn Bay. First-year BSc property and surveying student at Nottingham Trent University

"I got Ds in one A-level and one AS the first time round, started an HND course in Property, didn't like it and left. I then retook three A-levels in six months at a tutorial college. It was a bit too ambitious! I needed BBC to study estate management at my firm choice and I didn't get it.

I was really shocked when I collected my results. I felt the exams had gone well. My tutor told me to ring my first choice, then if they said 'No' – which they did! – to try Clearing.

I got the list in The Independent and rang several places. All the course tutors must have been inundated with calls from frantic students but they were all helpful. I think they were basically trying to calm people down.

Everyone explained their courses and gave me time to consider. I didn't want to end up on the wrong course again so I rang the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors for advice. Their list of recommended courses arrived the next day and I saw that Nottingham Trent, one of the places that had vacancies, was on it. My only problem now was getting back to them as phone lines were busy. I ran up a huge mobile phone bill, but didn't care. I was accepted and love it here."

TIPS

* Don't get your parents to ring for you. Admissions tutors want to hear from you.

* Don't rush. Places will not disappear. Take your time to make the right decision.

* If you are asked to accept an offer by a certain date and your CEF doesn't arrive in time, let the admissions tutor know and stress that you do want the place.

* Try to visit before you accept.

* Be ready to answer questions.

* DON'T send your CEF unless you definitely want to accept the place. (It must be the original, so it can only be sent once.)

CLEARING DATES

* MID-JULY
CEFs to applications not taking GCE/VCE without a place.

* THURSDAY 15 AUGUST
A-level results. First official vacancy list is published. CEF to GCE/VCE applications without a place.

* 1 SEPTEMBER
By this date, all CEFs should have arrived.

* MID SEPTEMBER
Last publication of the official vacancy list.

* 20 SEPTEMBER
CLOSING DATE for receipt of new Clearing applications sent to UCAS.

HELP AND ADVICE

* UCAS Helpline : If you have questions, you can call the helpline on 01242 227788. Have your name and application number ready.

* A BBC results hotline offering confidential advice and updates on vacancies will operate from 13-23 August. Calls are free on 0808 100 8000.

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