Do some homework before you start Clearing and you could end up with several over-the-phone offers, says Wendy Berliner

If you find yourself in the position of going into Clearing, what can you expect when you pick up the phone and dial the UK universities and colleges where you are now trying to find a place? What will the person on the other end want to know from you and what are the important things you need to find out?

The first thing to know is that Clearing in the UK is a major operation. Last year 35,000 applicants found a place through the Clearing process either because their grades weren't good enough for the place they were originally offered, or they applied late (after 30 June).

Some institutions recruit a great many students during this period and they will have teams of telephone operators waiting to take your initial call. Some will be students who came in through Clearing the previous year, so they will know how you are feeling.

When you speak to an admissions tutor for the course you are interested in, be prepared to have a mini-interview over the phone. If you are a UK-based student, the tutor may ask you to come and have a look at the university or college - but this is hard to do if you are on the other side of the world.

The kind of things the tutor will want to find out from you over the phone are what qualifications you have and why you are interested in the course at this institution - so make sure you do some homework before you pick up the phone.

The best thing is to make a list of vacancies that appeal to you and then look up the courses and the institutions online via A lot of courses now have detailed entry profiles so you can see what you will be studying and what kind of skills you are likely to get out of it. You will also be able to see details of the institution including practical information such as how much it costs to live there.

By then you should have a shortlist of vacancies and know why that course and that institution will suit you. All you then have to do is explain that to the admissions tutor.

You may be offered a place over the phone and if you really think it is the right place for you, accept it and send in your Clearing Entry Form. If you have any doubts, politely say you need to take time to think about it, and then do just that. Make calls to the rest of your list and then make a choice if you received more than one offer. Studying higher education is something that is going to cost a lot of money and take you from your home to another part of the world, so you need to be sure you are making the right decision.