Clearing the way to a brighter future

If you haven't got the results you wanted, you can still find the right course. And it's surprisingly easy
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The Independent Online

You won't have that vital envelope quite yet, but come Thursday, it will be there in your hand. And good luck. But if your results aren't quite good enough to get you into your first or second choice of university or college, what then? The answer lies with Clearing, as more than 43,000 students who have now completed their first year in higher education found out last year. Clearing is the process that matches students with course vacancies from Thursday of this week when A-level results come out. The Clearing system is for people who don't get their offers confirmed when they get their results; people who've applied too late to be considered before Clearing gets under way; or people who aren't holding any offers, or who decline offers that have changed.

You won't have that vital envelope quite yet, but come Thursday, it will be there in your hand. And good luck. But if your results aren't quite good enough to get you into your first or second choice of university or college, what then? The answer lies with Clearing, as more than 43,000 students who have now completed their first year in higher education found out last year. Clearing is the process that matches students with course vacancies from Thursday of this week when A-level results come out. The Clearing system is for people who don't get their offers confirmed when they get their results; people who've applied too late to be considered before Clearing gets under way; or people who aren't holding any offers, or who decline offers that have changed.

If you are eligible for Clearing, UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) will automatically send you a Clearing Entry Form (CEF) plus a comprehensive instruction booklet. These are sent first-class on results day to UK applicants, so, post permitting, should be with them the following day (for Scottish Highers, results day is today, so forms for Clearing candidates go out immediately). You can begin phoning round universities and colleges as soon as you know your results; but to be formally considered for a place you need to quote the Clearing entry number from your CEF.

All courses with vacancies will be listed on the UCAS website from 15 August to 20 September; comprehensive lists will also be published in this newspaper and the Independent on Sunday. The BBC One Life Results Helpline can also give updates on the latest vacancies. This will help you to make a list of courses you might be interested in. Then it's a question of getting on the phone (or email). "Use Clearing as an opportunity to practise the skills you'll need when it comes to finding a job," advises UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins. "Get yourself organised and do your research. Check out the vacancies in the official listings or on the UCAS website and make contact with the colleges that have vacancies on the courses you want."

You're likely to find an efficient operation on the other end of the phone, wherever you call. "It's in everyone's best interests that you choose a course or college that is right for you," points out Tony Higgins. "Universities and colleges are geared up to make the process as hassle-free as possible."

If a university or college wants to offer you a place, it's quite likely they'll be able to do so verbally on the spot. If they offer you a place and you want to accept, you fill in your CEF and send it off. Your CEF can only be sent to one institution at a time, so be sure. Once they have the form, your chosen university or college will send you a written offer. They will inform UCAS, who will also write to you. And you're in. "Thousands of applicants find suitable courses during Clearing every year and go on to graduate with excellent results," says Tony Higgins.

One such student is Heather Angus, 20, whose ambition has always been to work at Formula One. She's getting her wish in a few weeks, when she goes off to spend her sandwich year working with the team in Italy. Heather, who's just completed her second year on the automotive engineering course at Kingston University, where she's the only female in the class, says that her motivation failed for a while when she was studying for her A-levels in chemistry and physics and her AS-level in maths, so she was unsure how well she was going to do.

"I applied to four or five universities and they all gave me a conditional offer. But I didn't know how good my grades were going to be so I decided to wait and see, and then go through Clearing." She was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to negotiate the Clearing system. She's now learning Italian to prepare for next year.

Gurpreet Mudhar, also 20, has just completed her first year of communications studies at the University of East London (UEL). She too found Clearing very simple to organise. "I chose to go straight into Clearing because I knew what kind of course I wanted to do and where I wanted to study." She called UEL to make her application, and was accepted later that same morning. "I made it clear what I wanted, and also what I had to offer," she says. "They didn't just want to know what qualifications I had, but what kind of a person I was. My A-level marks were no problem, but I also have hospital radio experience, which really helped."

If the next few days turn out to be ones you spend glued to your phone or computer, spare a thought for all the university staff (and students) who are doing exactly the same, times a thousand or two, or even more. Universities and colleges up and down the country have been gearing for Clearing for the past couple of weeks. The University of Hertfordshire has been building up a highly efficient Clearings processing system for the past decade, says registrar William Callaway. "We get about 4,000 calls on A-level results day just from Clearing students, as well as around 2,500 from existing candidates," he says.

As well as the hundred or so academic staff assembled ready and waiting for queries, all from the university and its four consortium colleges, he has a team of 30 students ready to answer the phones when they ring. The university typically recruits between 10 and 20 per cent of its intake via Clearing; and, says William Callaway, finds some high-calibre recruits that way.

The student volunteers, he says, are an essential part of the operation. "Our student helpers are doing good for the university and for their fellow students. They can tell callers what the university's really like."

One such is Antonia Kamara, 22, who has achieved a 2.1 degree in psychology, and graduates this November. She originally wanted to study physiotherapy. "I didn't have the relevant work experience," she recalls. "I applied here for psychology through Clearing, thinking I could switch to physiotherapy later. I thought that Clearing was just for people with really bad grades and that nobody wanted me." The person who took her call at the University of Hertfordshire was, she says, "really nice and reassuring" and that made her want to help on the Clearing lines too. "I've had to deal with people crying, and tell them it's not a bad thing to come through Clearing and you can get a really good degree." Her proof? She enjoyed psychology so much that she's coming back next year to study for her Master's degree.

CLEARING INFO

¿ In 2001, more than 43,000 students found places on suitable higher education courses through Clearing.

¿ The UCAS helpline is on 01242 227788, fax 01242 54491, Minicom text-phone 01242 544942, email enq@ucas.ac.uk. Be ready to quote your name, address and application number. By 1pm on 16 August 2001, last year's A-level results day, the UCAS helpline had received around 5,000 calls from applicants wanting to know if they had secured a place at university or college.

¿ The online applicant enquiries service is at www.ucas.com/appenq/ Traffic on the UCAS website last year was heavy: the number of page impressions recorded between 16 August and 16 September topped 11 million (compared with 6.7 million during the same time in 2000). Course vacancy searches during the same period reached 1,118,179 (compared with 838,326 the previous year).

¿ New this year is WAP phone access to the Online Applicant Enquiries Service. This interactive service, which was introduced on the UCAS website last year, allows applicants to find out their Clearing Entry Number and to check the status of their offers during Confirmation and Clearing. It will be available from the afternoon of 15 August and is updated every three hours.

¿ The number for the free BBC One Life Results Helpline is 0808 100 8000. You will be able to speak in confidence to a careers adviser who will have access to all the latest information on Clearing.

'It's what you make of university that counts'

Steve Bloomfield, 21, found a place studying politics at Liverpool University through Clearing

I studied theatre studies, English literature and modern history at A-level, plus politics at A/S level. By the time I came to look at degree courses, I'd decided politics was the subject I was most interested in. I was given my predicted grades and applied to six big-city universities, including Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Bristol – I wanted to go to a city because I like to be somewhere where there's lots going on.

Manchester and Leeds wanted the highest grades, but seemed like the most interesting courses, so I put them as first and second choices. When I did the exams, I was pretty sure I hadn't done well enough for Manchester, but I hoped I'd get in at Leeds. I turned up at college to get my results – there were loads of us there, all waiting, and some people were already phoning home on their mobiles to say they'd got in. I opened my envelope and saw I hadn't been quite good enough. I was gutted, absolutely gutted.

I wasn't sure what to do; I went home and stood on the doorstep for a few minutes, plucking up the courage to go in and tell my mum it was time for Plan B. She was great, and we sat straight down at the computer to look for alternatives. We got into the UCAS website and typed in politics, to see what came up. I was fortunate that one of my original choices, Liverpool, had places.

I rang up, told them my grades, and within 30 seconds they'd offered me a place. My very first time in Liverpool was the first day of Freshers Week. Since then, everything has worked out almost perfectly. I'm enjoying the academic side, and there's a really large drama society, so I've written and directed plays. I wrote for our student newspaper and won Independent Student Reporter of the Year, and in my second year I was elected president of the students' union. That was a sabbatical, so I've had a year out now, and I'm really looking forward to my final year. In a way, where you go is irrelevant, as long as the course looks interesting; university's university, it's what you make of it that counts.

Iinterview by Hester Lacey

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