Clearing a path to academic success

If you don't quite make the grade today, Ucas is on hand to help, matching unplaced students with great vacancies

Results day is always memorable. For some, it's when plans fall beautifully into place. For others, it's a much more troubled time. Disappointing A-level grades are tough to take – especially if you think that they will affect your academic career.

All is far from lost, however. University applicants with no offers could scoop a place through Clearing – a service, run by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), that matches unplaced students with course vacancies. A number of competitive programmes at sought-after institutions could be up for grabs. "There's every reason to be positive if you find yourself in Clearing this year," says Steve Jeffree, chief operating officer at Ucas. "Thousands of courses are available."

Many are strong options, too. "It's not that age-old myth that Clearing's only obscure courses open to students who've achieved low grades. There are some great opportunities at the table," confirms Eoin Lally, student recruitment officer at St George's, University of London. "Last year, through Clearing, we were able to get some really strong students."

It's a similar story at many other institutions, including Pearson College, a private higher education provider in central London. "We have some spaces in Clearing on our business and enterprise degree programme," says Kerry Law, director of marketing and student recruitment.

8 very rich and famous people with crummy A-levels – or none at all

If you find yourself taking this route, Clearing is a fast-paced yet straightforward system. Check your Track status. If it says "You are in Clearing" or "Clearing has started", you can start searching for suitable course vacancies. If you missed your conditional offer, but neither of these messages are displayed, it's worth contacting your first-choice university – they may be considering you regardless. Otherwise, look at listings online and contact institutions directly to find out where they have spaces. Lists are updated continually as some places get snapped up and others become available, so keep checking to see what comes up – and do look at Twitter updates from institutions you're considering, too.

When an opportunity arises that piques your interest, arm yourself with information and talk to admissions tutors. "Ask them to tell you about their course," recommends careers adviser Nick Hynes. How is it assessed? What is the course content? Find out what the location is like, too; what would it be like to live there for three years? "Draw up a shortlist of places that interest you, then discuss it with your family." Also, factor in the practical aspects, such as accommodation, and be open-minded. Look at institutions in different areas. Think carefully about your course. "There's no necessity to stick with the same subjects you originally applied for," Jeffree points out. "Do keep in mind, though, that admissions officers may want to explore your reasons for choosing something different." Prepare some questions for such conversations, he advises, "with the aim of proving that you're likely to succeed after three years of study".

According to Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, it's important to do as much research as possible during Clearing "so you are comfortable you're going to an institution you're going to be happy at, studying something you're going to enjoy." This will help ensure you go the distance and finish with a respectable qualification. "One of the things graduate recruiters look for is whether you got a good mark in your degree."

By all means, ask about a university's employability initiatives, adds Isherwood, but don't focus on that too much. "Sometimes it's not about what your university does, but how you maximise the responsibilities and opportunities you get."

Ditto individual course employment statistics. "The bulk of volume graduate recruiters don't mind what subject people study," Isherwood observes. "They want to know how bright and practical you are and tend to look for all-round ability."

Throughout the Clearing process, it's really important to get impartial, expert advice. "The staff on the Exam Results Helpline are all experienced advisers," explains careers adviser John Carberry. "We help students make the best of their situation. We have masses of information at our fingertips, and we've talked a huge number of people through Clearing in the past – so we can say with confidence 'I know someone who's done this, and it worked out well'."

Advice goes beyond Clearing, however, as advisers on the Exam Results Helpline can also provide information about other courses and training routes, as well as resits and gap years. "It's important to remember that you don't have to go through Clearing," notes Hynes. "There are 101 reasons why people's plans don't work out as expected, and there are as many different options open to them."

If you do find the right course through Clearing, however, you must provide the university with your Clearing number – displayed on Track – and your Personal ID number. Institutions may then make an informal offer on the telephone, and provide a deadline by when you must accept or decline it. You can get as many informal offers as you wish, so use that thinking time wisely. Visit the university if you can, explore the local town, and talk to students and tutors face-to-face.

"We interview every student that expresses an interest through Clearing, regardless of how many points they have," says Law. "We think it's very important that students come to meet us and find out more."

Once you've made up your mind, you can accept an offer by adding it as your Clearing course in Track. The university will be asked to verify the offer, and Ucas will then send out a confirmation email. If the institution doesn't confirm your place, you will be able to add another.

From this point, it's all onwards and upwards. "The students we took through Clearing last summer are very dedicated and astute," notes Lally. Any anxiety around results day quickly becomes a distant memory, thankfully, and Clearing students tend to settle in to university every bit as quickly and comfortably as their peers. "Lots of ours have gone on to become student ambassadors, helping out at open days and recruitment events, as well as with outreach work. Their attendance and participation is great, and they're really happy here."

'I'd tell anyone that gets unexpected exam results: don't give up'

Dave Murdoch, 19, achieved ABB in his A-levels in 2012, rather than the AAB he needed to study economics at University of Sheffield.

"I had been to lots of open days and Sheffield had everything I wanted – so I was gutted when I missed my conditional offer to go there.

I spoke to a trained careers adviser at the Exam Results Helpline, who talked through my options, including Clearing, getting my exam papers re-marked, and resitting my final year of A-levels. I was open to resits and getting a job if it meant getting to Sheffield the following year. It was really nice to have someone properly explain alternatives I hadn't thought about and the processes I needed to go through. Without that support, I may have missed out completely.

The helpline adviser also reassured me that my results were very good and that I had lots of options. It was nice not to have someone judge me or be disappointed with my results. Best of all, he gave me objective advice.

While I was weighing up my options, the adviser said I should continue to contact Sheffield to let them know I was still interested in the course.

I emailed them five or six times that day, but heard nothing back. I also found a place at the University of Liverpool through Clearing.

A few days later, I logged on, ready to accept my Clearing place at Liverpool – and I had an email from University of Sheffield offering me a place! I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked and pleased as I had discounted ever getting there that year.

I've just completed the first year of my economics degree at Sheffield and it has completely met my expectations. I've loved the course, met so many new people – and the social life is fantastic.

I'd tell anyone that gets unexpected exam results: don't give up. Get in touch with the universities you want to go to. Don't just call once, either – be persistent. You need to stay in their minds in case a place becomes free."

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
film
Sport
football
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Leeds November start...

EBD LSA required - Vale of Glamorgan

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

EBD Teacher - Food Technology Specialist

£100 - £181 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The JobTo plan and deliver all ...

Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker