OK, so you have opened the dreaded envelope and the grades were not quite what you were expecting. Your place at university is hanging precariously in the balance and September is fast approaching. Don’t panic: just because you didn’t get on your first-choice course does not mean your university career is over before it has begun. Last year, according |to UCAS, more than 47,000 students found university places through Clearing. Follow our guide and you could do the same.
Check if you are eligible
You can go through Clearing if you do not have a place on a university course. This will be either because you |have been rejected by your firm and
insurance choices after not making the grades; you have rejected all your offers; you were not given an offer at all; or your application – including the full £19 fee – was received after 30 June. The lucky few who did better than expected can also go through Clearing via Adjustment to find a place on a higher-ranked course.
Call your university
If you have missed your grades, it is worth calling up both your firm and |insurance choices and asking if they will let you in despite not getting the results you needed. It will be tight this year, because university applications are at an all-time high, but it will depend on individual faculties. Try asking if they have any spaces on related courses: you might be able to change once you get there. Remember, if you don’t ask, then you don’t get.
If that fails, it is Clearing for you. Arm yourself with a laptop and a pen and paper and go to the UCAS website ( ucas.com ), aka your Clearing bible. You’ll need to log in to Track to get your personal Clearing number. Then go to the listings to find details of courses with available places. There will also be full listings in this newspaper.
Note down courses you are interested in – you could try any of your original UCAS choices to see if they accept you, or you could opt for something new. Keep checking the website as it gets updated regularly. Universities will be helping in every way they can. Thames Valley University will be giving students advice about Clearing through their Twitter page ( twitter.com/TVUguru ), and most universities will have specific Clearing advice on their webpages.
Pick up the phone
Once you have your list, then you’re ready to hit the phones. Make sure you have your results and Clearing number to hand. Hotline advisers will ask you which course you are interested in. They may also ask you about your results, experience and background, so be prepared to talk about yourself. In most cases, they will call you back, so be patient and be available to take calls. Not being by the phone can add to the stress, as Emma Harris, 19, who won a place at the University of Bristol to study theology via Adjustment, discovered. “There was a lot of hanging around waiting, and I was convinced I wouldn’t be going anywhere in September,” she says. “When they called me back, I was at work – they had called my house first and my mum had to give them my work number. It was the most stressful two days of my life.”
If there is a place still available, in most cases you will talk to the admissions tutor about the course. This is your chance to convince them to give you a place and to find out more. Rob McGowan, the recruitment and admissions officer at Coventry University, says: “You want to try and impress the admissions tutor over the phone. Ask questions about the course, maybe about the different modules, how it is accessed or whether it includes a work placement. If you show an interest in what they have to offer, they are more likely to be interested in you.”
If a university does make you an offer, well done, but bear in mind that you don’t have to accept straight away. Ask how long the place is going to be open for; it will differ from place to place. If you can, try to visit the university – some places will have specific Clearing open days geared up to help students who |are still unsure of their next move. Tim Duncan, 21, who graduated from the University of Plymouth with a BEng in civil engineering this year, is glad that he took the time to get to see the university when he found himself in Clearing. “Everyone was really friendly. Some student ambassadors showed me around the campus, then I met a couple of the lecturers, who took me around the engineering department. They |were so enthusiastic about me coming there that it made me enthusiastic too. The fact that I went down and saw it was a big part of the decision in going there. After all, you’ll be spending three years of your life there, so it helps if you like it.”
Once you’ve made up your mind and told the university, you are responsible for making it official. Log on to Track, click the “Add Clearing choice” button and put in the course code and the institution code. Then, if all is OK, UCAS will send you confirmation of your place. When you have that letter in your hand, you can be calm in the knowledge that your place is official.
Jeffrey Odufuye, 19, did better than expected in his exams last year, and he went through Adjustment to gain a place at Kingston University. He is |studying sociology and film studies.
“I was predicted Cs in my A-levels and BTEC in health and social care, and had a place at the University of East London doing psychosocial studies. When I ended up with grades ABC at A-level, I thought that I should look at what else was out there. I really wanted to do sociology, and, having grown up in south London, I fancied a change from city life.
I saw Kingston had spaces and phoned straight away. The phone call was very easy – they were really helpful. They phoned me back in about half an hour to say I had a place. I accepted there and then because I knew it was the right course for me as I want to be a social worker, and it was the opportunity to go to a higher-ranked university.
There wasn’t room in halls, but I had a friend at Kingston who was living in private accommodation. He moved out and I took over the tenancy. I don’t feel I missed out not living on campus. People phone me if there is anything big going on. It’s nice to be out of London, too. Kingston is quieter, but there is still a good nightlife. I’m glad I didn’t just settle for the easy option.”
Tate Connolly, 22, gained her place through Clearing at the University of Lincoln, studying for a BA in advertising and marketing.
“When I first thought about which university to go to, I just looked at places which were the highest-ranked for my course and within two hours of home. When I |didn’t get my results and realised that I couldn’t go to my first-choice university, I was devastated.
My plan was to go back to college to retake one grade – I didn’t think there was any point going to a lower-ranked university. But as term approached, I was dreading it and had a look at Clearing. A friend was going to Lincoln and she suggested I try there, but by this time it was late August. Luckily, there were still places available. When the admissions tutor explained the course to me over the phone, it actually sounded better suited to me – it had more of a business focus. When I was offered the place, it was very close to the start of term, so there was no time to sort where I was going to live. My parents persuaded me to pack up and drive down on the first day of freshers’ week. That day was the first time I’d ever seen Lincoln!
Even though there was limited accommodation left, I found a flat at Brayford Quay, on the river Witham. I’m into kayaking, and it was perfect – I could walk straight out of my flat and be paddling in a few minutes.
I couldn’t believe my luck. If you’re going to live somewhere for three years, it has got to be right for you – it turned out Lincoln was the place for me.”
Andrew Jeffery, 19, had a change of heart about studying physics, rejected all his choices and went through Clearing to get a place at De Montfort University in Leicester, studying for a BSc in media production. He has just finished his first year.
“I was undecided about what I wanted to do at university. I chose physics as I loved science at school. Then I kept picturing myself working in a laboratory and realised I didn’t want a career as a scientist. I’d always been interested in films and decided I wanted a career in the industry. So I rejected all my UCAS choices and went through Clearing.
I had been to De Montfort for the media production open day and really liked it. I had also phoned them a few times to check there were still places, so when they said there was still a place, I jumped at the chance. My BSc course involves all aspects of creating and producing media, including modules involving physics, so it’s perfect for me.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. When I arrived, there was no accommodation left for freshers, so I decided to stay at home. I live just outside Leicester, so the commute isn’t too bad and I’ve saved a lot of money. I realise now that I should have thought more about what I wanted to do long term. It’s worth taking time to think about, as it is a decision that will affect the rest of your life.”
FIVE TOP TIPS FOR CLEARING
1. Be prepared. Before you go and get your |results on Thursday, have a think about what other courses or universities you might be interested in. Make a list of three, then if you do find yourself going through Clearing, you will have a starting point.
2. Don’t panic. Clearing might seem like a scary prospect, but it does not need to be a frenetic experience. If you need any help with the process or you have any questions about your application, contact the UCAS helpline on 0871 468 0468.
3. Do it yourself. YOU need to pick up the phone, not your parents. This is your application and you are the one who should make the key decisions. It goes without saying that results day is not the best time to take a holiday.
4. Be interested. When you phone a university, it should be a two-way conversation. Ask about the course, accommodation and student life. That way, you will get all the information you need to make a decision and you will, crucially, come across as someone who deserves that vital place.
5. Consider everything. Clearing is not the be-all and end-all. There are other options: an apprenticeship, a part-time course, or taking a productive gap year. For expert, independent advice, call the National Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000. It is based at UCAS, but staffed by Connexions advisers.
Kate Butland, customer service manager at UCAS