Since its almost that time of year again, I have decided to share my top tips on surviving UCAS Clearing on A Level Results Day. I am drawing on my own experiences of going through Clearing 4 years ago. The short version of my story is that I did not gain a place at my first choice university but I also didn’t want to attend my insurance option so I voluntarily entered myself into clearing.
I decided to write this due to feeling completely terrified of Clearing because of the stigma attached to it when I was in Sixth Form. Realisations of how much time has been procrastinated away was met with cries of “I’ll end up in clearing” by myself and my peers. Although Clearing is available to those that didn’t meet the grade requirements of their first or second choice uni, the truth is that fantastic institutions (yes, even those Russell Group ones) have places available on there to students that are tenacious and prepared to persuade the person on the other end of the Clearing hotline that they really do deserve that spot on the course.
This guide aims to ensure that you are that student who is ready to face Clearing head on and come out with the desired result.
keep an open mind
Clearing actually has a lot of opportunity for change, the freedom allows you to alter not just your university but even your degree programme if you choose to. Obviously this has limits depending on whether the course requires specific A Level subjects, however this isn’t the case for many disciplines. If you have a change of heart in terms of course and you are able to provide convincing evidence in your clearing phone call, then the university may well accept your request. You could use examples of your extra-curricular activities or your reading you justify your change of course, explaining why you have been inspired to change direction and perhaps what this degree would enable you to do in the future. Be passionate and authentic.
In broader terms, keep an open mind about whether university is for you, whether that be right now or at all. You might want to take a gap year and re-consider your options, even retaking exams in different subjects to enable you to change degree programme. This may not seem like a viable option right now but one year of your life will fly by and you may gain some valuable life skills. As my mum always says, education is life long and there’s always opportunity to go back to it. I know plenty of people that have rushed into degrees and regretted it, many making the initial decision due to the pressure of their friends going to university and because it can be considered the obvious next step in many cases. I would advise you to not go with the flow if this is the situation you are facing, there’s no harm in reconsidering your options, especially when it could save a lot of time and money due to dropping out.
Prospects have written a guide with alternative options to replace higher education, read it here
nothing is impossible
It may seem like a bold claim, but as I have already mentioned above Clearing is a place where (grade) boundaries can be pushed and aspirations can become a reality. In my own experience I had a place at Queen Mary by approximately 10am on Results Day having achieved ABC, the grade requirements outlined on the website for the course at QM were AAB but I was accepted on regardless. This is just one of many examples as to how Clearing can actually be a stress-free process rather than the hectic rush it can sometimes be made out to be. Have confidence in the fact that Clearing is a tool to help and not to hinder you. Following the steps below will give you an even better chance at a successful Clearing journey.
be attentive and informed
A huge part of empowering yourself in being able to access alternative university options involves gaining information on the clearing opportunities available to you in advance of Results Day. The 2019 UCAS Clearing search tool is here and can be used right now!
I spent the day prior to Results Day using the search tool to identify appropriate courses according to my interests, expected grades and university location. If you are not expecting to obtain the grades expected for your first choice then it is important to be realistic about the grades you think you will achieve. Once you have identified the courses that may be appropriate for you, begin to write down the basic information such as course name, grade requirements and an outline of the course content (this will become useful when using the clearing hotline). To avoid scrambling around at note paper or frantically searching the internet on Results Day morning, save the clearing hotline numbers for said universities in the contact book of your phone. Next we will tackle some essentials in terms of the all-important Clearing hotline phone call.
research, research, research
I cannot emphasise how important it is to research the course and university before you decide to take that call to the Clearing hotline. The person on the other end of the phone will be asking the obvious questions such as why you want attend that university or why you want to enroll onto that degree course. However, they may ask more specific questions about why you didn’t initially choose that institution or what aspects of their course is particularly drawing you to choose them. When I took those calls I had both my list of interesting things about the course/university and my personal statement in front of me to help answer the questions. Granted, you may need to use some artistic licence when talking about why you didn’t initially choose that university (if that question is asked), but generally its better to be as prepared as you can be.
patience really is a virtue
The Clearing system definitely isn’t always plain sailing. One of the most difficult things that I faced was being patient with the process, especially when that process involves being on hold a lot of the time. Expect to be put on hold and passed around to a lot of different members of staff until the appropriate one in your department eventually answers the phone to conduct a short verbal interview with you. It’s Results Day, everyone is frantically ringing phones and answering them, be gracious with those facilitating your call.
The first university I called had me on hold for too long and I decided to hang up after listening to a lengthy period of classical music. My second phone call lasted for around 20 seconds as they immediately told me that they wouldn’t be taking applications from anybody who had achieved lower than ABB. Queen Mary was my 3rd or 4th phone call and being passed onto a member of staff from the linguistics department happened fairly swiftly. The head of department that answered my call and interviewed me was lovely and within minutes she offered me a place at QM. I was incredibly fortunate. These things may happen to you, they may not, but patience is always the key. The same universities may have different opinions later on in the day, you just have to keep trying.
I thought I’d finish off by explaining a bit about procedural stuff if you make the same decision as me and choose to reject your insurance choice and enter clearing. In order to be released into clearing you may have to call your insurance choice and let them know that you shall not be accepting the offer of studying there. The institution might ask why you no longer wish to study with them (I assume this is for feedback purposes) so make sure you have a reason to provide when you call.
For more info from UCAS about the Clearing process for Results Day 2019 click here.