Don't worry if you don't get the results you wanted, says Darren Barker

The Ucas Clearing process is there to help you get back on track if you haven't received the grades you were expecting. Clearing is a well organised and efficient service, backed by a core team of advisers whose knowledge and understanding will make the whole process simple to use. Last year, over 38,000 people found places at a university or college through Clearing.

Going through Clearing doesn't mean that you have failed in any way. You may have had offers from a university or college that you haven't met; you may decide that you don't want to go to your first-choice university; or it may be that you applied to go to university or college too late.

How does Clearing work?

You are eligible for Clearing if:

* You haven't withdrawn your application

* You hold no offers

* Your offers have not been confirmed because you may not have achieved the required grades

* You have declined your offers or have not responded by the due date

* Your offers have not been confirmed and you have declined any alternative offers * * from the same university or college

* You have applied after 30 June (12 June for Route B art and design courses).

If for some reason you haven't yet applied, you can still complete an application up until 20 September and you will automatically be put into Clearing.

Once Ucas has processed your application, they will send you a welcome letter that will contain your Ucas application number. You can now use Track on to keep a close eye on your progress. If you get accepted onto a course, the university or college will get in touch with Ucas and then that information will be displayed on Track.

It is vitally important to be available in person around Clearing time and plan your summer holiday around exam results day. You may have to deal with admissions tutors and will need to make some pretty important decisions.

Once you are eligible for Clearing, Ucas will send you a Clearing passport: a form you use to secure a place. If a university or college is willing to consider your application, they will ask for the Clearing number that is printed on the passport. If the university you have applied to decide to offer you a place they will then ask you to send them your passport. Whatever you do, do not send your passport to Ucas; it is the university that needs it.

Get your place

Preparation and research are the foundations on which a successful clearing application is based. Feel free to contact as many universities and colleges as you want and don't feel as though you have to accept the first offer that comes along.

This year, Clearing begins on Tuesday 7 August for Scottish vacancies and Thursday 16 August for all other vacancies. It runs until Monday 17 September when available places will stop being advertised, although you will have until 20 September to submit your application. Places are advertised on and in The Independent.

Do not ever feel as though you have nobody to turn to if you find yourself suddenly having to go through Clearing: talk to your personal adviser at your school or college or contact a careers adviser. They can help you decide which courses and subjects would be most suitable for you.

Talk to a Ucas adviser on 0870 1122211; they are a pleasant bunch (honest!) with a wealth of experience, and they are more than happy to try and answer any questions that you might have.

When an institution asks you to send them your Clearing passport, it means that you have met all their necessary requirements and they would like you to confirm your place. Once you are sure that you will enjoy the course, are comfortable living in the area and are convinced that you will have the best possible time, send them your passport. You could always take it in person - that way you get to absorb more of the atmosphere of your future institution.

That's it, pretty simple isn't it? Just remember, Clearing is merely an extension of the Ucas application process, so try not to worry if you don't get the results that you were hoping for. Good luck!

Darren Barker is the communications officer for UCAS