With Clearing only days away, overseas universities are lining up British students who are looking for a place to study. Opportunities are opening up from Australia to the Caribbean, and from the Netherlands to the United States, so if your results leave you without an obvious next step, it could be time to look further afield.
At the forefront of this trend is Florida State University (FSU), whose London Study Centre will be launching an unusual programme during Clearing this year. It provides a bridge for British students wanting to study in America – they spend their first year in London before transferring to the main campus in Tallahassee.
"We wanted to create a gateway to the US for British students that is feasible, affordable and beneficial," explains Kathleen Paul, director of the centre. "Arranging study in the US can seem complicated, but this programme allows you to spend your first year at an American university in London, while we guide you through the process."
British students will study introductory level courses alongside American students who have chosen to study in the UK. After a year, students transfer to the Florida campus, or to the university's other campuses in Europe.
"The programme will appeal to those torn between the idea of going abroad and feeling it's too great an upheaval," adds Paul. "But it will also open up the American system, which allows you to defer specialisation until the second year. The beauty of it is that you can build up a broader-based degree that really reflects your interests."
Australian universities – with the academic year starting in February or March – are also encouraging applications from British students. But unlike FSU, where the deadline is 31 August, some Australian universities will consider candidates well after the end of Clearing.
Most British students at the University of New South Wales are postgraduates. But, the university targets high-quality candidates during Clearing, particularly those who've missed out on a place at a leading university in the UK, says spokesperson Denise Knight.
Although studying abroad for an entire degree remains largely the preserve of postgraduates, universities abroad are witnessing a rise in the number of British undergraduates.
"The numbers of [British] undergraduates are certainly starting to move up," says Pauline Nunan of Melbourne University's international marketing and development department. "And we would welcome British students if they can't find a place in the UK."
Like others, Australian institutions are not only capitalising on their ability to offer places, but also on enviable selling points. Nunan points out that Australia has a great lifestyle and climate, and Melbourne is a great city for students. "But studying overseas also gives students an edge in the employment market – it shows they've got what it takes to get on in the world by themselves," she says.
Other universities target students looking to get on to particularly competitive courses or study specialist subjects for which non-UK institutions are the global leaders.
St George's University in Grenada specialises in medicine and veterinary medicine; currently 4 per cent of its international students are British. Perched on its own peninsula on the Caribbean island, the university offers August and January start dates.
"From a financial standpoint it makes sense to stay in the UK, but if Clearing doesn't work out, it appeals to people to have a seat available in January," says associate dean Bob Ryan.
Meanwhile, leading Swiss hospitality college Les Roches has just introduced an October intake to target the post-Clearing period. "We felt that we didn't have as many students joining the January class as they didn't want to wait those extra months," says Clark McPhee, regional admissions director. "We've already seen a lot of interest."
For Paul Smith, who turned down a place at Bournemouth University to go to Les Roches, studying abroad was enlightening. "You're suddenly operating on a global level – you get such an amazing perspective on the world," he says.
For all the positives, cost can be a substantial barrier to overseas study. Even with assistance, fees can be high for international students, and accommodation, travel, visas and living costs must all be factored in. But if study in faraway locations is unaffordable, there's no need to despair. Closer to home, certain institutions in EU countries are now offering full undergraduate degrees taught in English. And study at some works out cheaper than in the UK.
Annual tuition fees at Maastricht University in the Netherlands come in at between £1,200 and £1,500, compared to £3,200 at British universities. Maastricht is also keen to recruit students from the UK, but has a similarly tight application deadline for its September start date. "The time is short, but we've designed a registration procedure to help students apply as quickly as possible," says spokesperson Caroline Roulaux.
Overseas study at undergraduate level is still a relatively unexplored option for British students. But if they are having to think again about where to study because of missed grades, it might prove an attractive alternative. And aside from extending the total pool of available places, studying abroad could bring you a host of benefits, from a course that suits your interests better, to an eye-opening, even life-changing, experience.
How to broaden your horizons
Finding out about undergraduate study overseas takes time and persistence. First, identify places where you might want to study – English-speaking countries are a good place to start, but some non-Anglophone universities now teach courses in English. Consider countries offering later start dates – often these are in the Southern Hemisphere.
Write a list of institutions in your identified countries – use the internet, ask advisers and look out for the overseas universities advertising during Clearing (though none will be part of the Clearing system – this is only for British institutions). Make sure you meet their entry requirements for the courses you're interested in; also find out the fees and application deadlines.
Most universities have international admissions offices which will give you the information you need. Check the availability of places, how long the application process takes and any hidden costs there might be. Ask if grants are available – St George's, Grenada, for example, offers a needs-based scholarship, while at Maastricht you can apply for loans and bursaries.
Check out the reputation in the UK of the institutions you're considering, especially if you plan to come home to work.
Should I stay or should I go?
*Studying abroad demonstrates confidence and capability to employers.
*In some countries, such as the US, you gain the right to work there for a period after undergraduate study.
*International study is usually a rewarding and illuminating experience.
*Cost – probably the largest barrier to overseas study.
*Some institutions may be less well-recognised if you intend to return to the UK to work.
*Being far from friends and family can be daunting and difficult.