Course Guidance: Look for the hard sell in a volatile time: Karen Gold finds that students are still in big demand

IN THE best-ever year for A level results and with apparently record university intakes already, you might think only a handful of bottom-of-the-barrel course vacancies are left in clearing. You would be wrong.

This time last year, two-thirds of the way through clearing, roughly 10,000 people had found places in clearing via PCAS. The final PCAS clearing successes (including degree and HND students) passed 25,000 - more than double.

This year 12,000 people have so far found PCAS places in clearing. If universities were recruiting only the same numbers as last year, that would mean more places were full and fewer left. But all the signs are that recruitment is up by a record 20 per cent. On last year's pattern that means up to 18,000 places are still available.

'Admissions officers are still saying, 'We are desperate to get students in' ' the PCAS chief executive Tony Higgins said. 'These aren't just courses hoping to pick up one or two extra students. These are real vacancies waiting to be filled.' UCCA too shows signs of plenty of places. It began clearing this year with vacancies in over 100 more courses than last year, and there are still places in surprising subjects like law and business studies, an UCCA spokesman, Jeff Enderby, said. At this point last year universities in UCCA had accepted around half of the final number of students placed through clearing. On the same pattern, that suggests at least 6,000 still unfilled vacancies in UCCA institutions.

In fact there may be more. Normally the more popular universities and subjects fill up first. This year things are more volatile. The good A level results enabled some students expecting to go to former polys to get into universities instead. That has meant courses going in and out of PCAS clearing like yo-yos. Portsmouth University (formerly Portsmouth Polytechnic) is not unusual in having put Sociology, English, Creative Arts and Latin American Studies into clearing, out again, in again and possibly out again, all in the last fortnight.

The name-changes of most polytechnics to universities has had exactly the opposite effect. Several thousand fewer students than usual have turned down conditional offers made through PCAS. That means students are sticking with the 'new' universities, causing the 'old' universities some headaches.

'This year we are in clearing to replace our losses as well as pick up the few extra students we needed,' said Ken Young, admissions officer for Newcastle University.

So what does all this mean for anyone still hunting for a place? Firstly it is good news for non-scientists. As always, vacancies in science and technology this year heavily outnumber every other subject, and 'A' level points scores required are down to two E's in some science courses. But there are far more vacancies in law, business studies, social sciences and arts than usual, and some institutions are now lowering the grades they want for these too.

Oxford Polytechnic, for example, normally, a by-word for popularity, is prepared to look at candidates with less than the 'C' grades normally demanded for its planning degree. Bath College is encouraging people with only Music A level plus grade 8 performance standard to contact tutors about its music degree.

Secondly, it means keeping up the momentum of the search. There are vacancies in unexpected universities and unexpected courses, but because the situation is so fluid you have to look for them and keep on looking. Even today's vacancy picture may have changed before you get through on the phone and it may change back again tomorrow.

Thirdly it means the prizes will go to the entrepreneurial. Several colleges are running hot-lines to encourage you to ring them direct. This is a sign of desperation, whatever the accompanying blurb about 'last few places' may say. Ring up and persuade them that, despite your grades, you are serious.

If there are recruitment fairs, go to them. Middlesex University ran a fair for its new health studies degree earlier this month. It had no students registered at the start of the afternoon, and 70 by the end.

If you have reasonable grades but no place, ring your favoured institution even if it is apparently full. With funding for universities following students, everyone is under pressure to expand, says Brian Salter, academic registrar of King's College, London.

If admissions tutors say 'no', ask to be put on a waiting list. Students drop out up to enrolment and beyond: there are always casualties in the first week.

'We have places reserved in hall even for people who come very late,' Len Young, of Newcastle, said. 'We can take people up to the 11th hour and beyond.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform