Clearing 2015: Why going through university Clearing as a mature student was the smartest thing I've ever done

As pupils begin to receive their exam results from today, one former student gives an insight into to why Clearing was the right choice for him - and could be for you too

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The Independent Online

A few weeks after Breaking Bad had come to its dramatic finale, I found myself standing in front of an audience of journalists at a swanky London hotel. Bryan Cranston – Walter White himself – was staring at me intensely.

It was the press conference for Godzilla, and after weeks of trying, I’d managed to get myself into the room with one shameless intention – to get the director, Gareth Edwards, to deviate from the $160m movie he was there to promote and talk, instead, about Arrivals – a short film he’d made half a lifetime earlier whilst still a student of Farnham Film School, now part of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). It was a fairly brazen PR attempt from an inexperienced press officer, but amazingly it kind of worked.

I went home that evening, heart still pounding, feeling a level of job satisfaction I don’t think I’d ever really felt before. It hadn’t just been a good day at the office. It had been – dare I say – rather exciting.

My first contact with UCA had happened five years earlier, when, having just lost a dull builders’ merchant job to the recession, I picked-up the phone to the university’s Clearing hotline and asked about their journalism courses.

I’d never been particularly academic at school. A read through my old reports has a distinct running theme of under-achievement and disappointed teachers. It’s not that I couldn’t do the work, it’s just that school happened to coincide with my ‘bone-idle little sod’ period.

But a few years in the outside world had instilled in me something bordering on a solid work-ethic – and made me realise the exciting jobs go to the people that chase them.

Whilst my A-level grades by themselves were insufficient to get me on to the course, my age, then 25, and my ‘life experience’ – which included keeping a blog when I travelled – were enough to get me through to a phone interview with the course leader.

I can’t remember now exactly what was said, but I must have done enough to convince him of my merits because within a month, I’d moved to the Surrey town of Farnham and enrolled myself into the university.

Of course, there were a million and one things I was worried about. After collecting a monthly salary for so long, would I cope on student finance? Could I really survive living with a bunch of students? What if, after racking up thousands of pounds of debt, I failed to find a decent job?

I needn’t have worried. I loved it – even the hours of essay-writing. And after three years – in which time I stayed at a Bedouin camp in Jordan, interviewed The Gadget Show presenters onstage at the NEC, and reported from the front-line of the 2010 student riots – I graduated with First-Class Honours.

Within months of graduating, I’d landed a commission with The Guardian, taken part in the UN’s Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan (where I got to meet ‘the father of the Internet’, Vint Cerf) and picked up a few days a week at UCA, where I’m now employed full-time, promoting the School of Film, Media and Communication Design.

But why am I telling you this?

It’s because taking a few minutes to call a university on Clearing day was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never get rich doing what I do now, but it sure as hell beats flogging wood and gravel.

Twitter: @TimPilgrimUCA