Clearing 2015: The 5 things students need to do to make a head-start on A-level results day

If you're worried about the chaos of results day and look set to rush for a Clearing course, here are Which? University's top-tips on how to get ahead to put yourself in the best possible position

Alex Neill
Thursday 13 August 2015 11:41 BST
(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Are you expecting to run around like a headless chicken come results day? While there might well end up being some of that involved, if you already think you’ll need to enter Clearing or devise a plan B to your original university plans, some prep beforehand will help.

Follow these tips to navigate the Clearing process more smoothly, find a place on a course you’re happy with (and more quickly), or get some alternative future options on the table:

1) Start looking at possible Clearing courses – now

Why wait until results day to see what other options are out there for you? There is so much to consider when choosing a university – or another route entirely – that it’s worth starting early if you’re thinking your original university choice is no longer an option.

While Clearing actually opens before A-level results day, the majority of course vacancies are only added after this – but you can still research and shortlist possible courses or universities to look out for once Clearing begins.

Use the Which? University course search to learn more about universities and the courses they offer in general.

The moment you think you’ll be going through Clearing – if one of your exams doesn’t go quite so well – start looking around to be safe.

2) Consider the alternatives

Of course, if you had your heart set on a particular course and university but you don’t think you’ll make the grades, you might now be thinking about a different route entirely:

Gap year: A year out could give you time to build-up life and work experience and re-think your options. So while that could be (budget allowing) travelling the world and ‘finding yourself’ overseas, it could equally be volunteering or working closer to home.

Either way, do make that year count – in particular, think about what might enhance a future university application.

Resit your exams: If you narrowly missed the grades you needed, resits could be an option.

You’ll need to arrange to do this the following June (ask your school or college), meaning you’ll also need to start planning for your year ahead while you prepare.

Study abroad: Increasing numbers of UK students are looking further afield for higher education options – attracted by lower fees (as an EU student studying in Sweden, for example, you’re exempt from paying tuition fees set by public universities) and more English-speaking courses on offer.

There may be courses available for the upcoming year – but some careful planning and research will be needed upfront.

A different qualification path: Apprenticeships, traineeships, and school leavers’ programmes are all legitimate alternatives to university level study, providing real, applicable workplace skills and experience while you study (and earn).

This might even better suit the way you learn, or be more appropriate if you already have a particular career path in mind.

Which? University tip: Your university back-up plan

3) Definitely going through Clearing? Dig out your personal statement

It will have been a few months since you last cast your eyes over your personal statement, even if, at the time, you were probably happy to put it to one side, having spent weeks writing and rewriting it.

Now is an excellent opportunity to revisit it and reflect on the strengths, skills, and experiences you highlighted at the time – especially if you’re not feeling too confident about your expected results. It should also help you remember what your priorities were then and establish what they are now.

It’s also handy to keep a paper copy close-by to help you prepare ahead of calling universities during Clearing. Highlight the most important parts and be prepared to expand on these.

Which? University tip: Making the right Clearing course decision

4) Start your mini-interview preparations

When you call a university during Clearing, they may simply wish to confirm your grades before making a decision to accept you or not. However, some universities will ask questions to learn more about you before making a decision.

Therefore, it’s well worth planning some answers – or talking points – which you can cover in your responses so you ‘wow’ that admissions tutor.

Start thinking about the kind of questions you might be asked – the questions you were asked in any admissions interviews you attended would be a good place to start. Jot these down with some outline answers and you’ll be less likely to lose your train of thought when put on the spot. Practice aloud what you would say, so you feel confident in your response.

Which? University tip: Clearing: how to call universities

5) Some final dos and don’ts

  • DON’T book any holidays, breaks, or trips which coincide with results day on 13 August.

  • DO discuss your plans with your parents and seek the advice of others.

  • However, DON’T rely on Mum or Dad to phone universities on your behalf – it won’t go down well with admissions tutors at all.

  • DO go into school or college on the morning of results day to collect your exact marks and Ucas points (it’s likely the university will ask for them) and seek the advice of teachers and advisers.

  • DO be prepared on the day: you’ll need a notepad, several (working!) pens to make notes as you call universities, plus your phone charger on hand.

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