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How I Survived Clearing (And How You Can Too)

How I Survived Clearing (And How You Can Too)  main image

By Caitlin Pugh

According to the UCAS admissions service, a record breaking 27,900 students secured places through clearing in 2016 after missing out on the grades required for their firm and insurance choice universities.

So, if you find yourself in clearing this year, you’re not alone. In fact, I went into clearing on my A Level results day. My lack of preparation made it one of the most stressful, emotional days of my life (I wasn’t even sure what clearing was!) – but it all worked out in the end. If you expect to be in clearing this year, here are seven tips I wish someone had given me ahead of results day.

First up, what even is clearing?

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Clearing is a process which you are automatically entered into in the UK when the conditions of both your firm and insurance choice universities are not met. Universities with spare places on their courses will open them up to students in clearing with lowered entry requirements.

To secure one of these places, first check universities’ websites to see if they are offering clearing places and, if so, what their lowered entry requirements are. If you meet the requirements, call the clearing hotline and speak to an operator who will talk you through the rest.

If you meet the requirements, a verbal offer of a place will usually be made over the phone, to be shortly followed by a formal offer online via UCAS.

Tip #1: Do some research

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My experience of clearing was stressful, mostly because I didn’t expect to be there and hadn’t prepared for the eventuality that I might be. My heart was set on my first choice university and I wouldn’t even entertain the possibility that I might not get in – so when I didn’t, I was distraught.

Whether you expect to be in clearing or not, it pays to be prepared. So, my first piece of advice is to do some research before results day. Find around five universities with a range of entry requirements that you feel you would be happy going to. Places in clearing are usually first come, first served, so by doing a bit of research beforehand and having an idea of the universities you would like to contact, you’ll save valuable time on the day.

Tip #2: Don’t give up hope just yet

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Just because you weren’t offered a place at either your firm or insurance choices, you shouldn’t abandon all hope of going to either of them until you call their clearing hotlines. The entry requirements for their courses in clearing will be lowered and you may get preferential treatment because you already applied there. So, try your luck and give them a call!

Tip #3: Let go of league table snobbery

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If after calling your firm and insurance choices, you still can’t secure a place, the university you go to will most likely be ranked lower in the league tables - but this isn’t the end of the world! The university rankings are based upon a large range of factors, and a lower ranking doesn’t necessarily mean a university scores poorer for graduate employability and isn’t that what’s most important?

I was sure I needed to go to a Russell Group university. I thought that, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to compete for jobs with people who did. In the end, I didn’t go to one, but this encouraged me to go out and get lots of work experience to gain workplace skills and put myself on a par with people who had. I wouldn’t have felt the need to do this if I had gone to a more highly ranked university and I wouldn’t have a lot of the skills I have now. So, I have clearing to thank for that.

Tip #4: Ask about foundation years

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When you call universities to ask for a place through clearing, ask if they offer a foundation year. This is an extra year to be completed at the start of your degree that brings you up to the standard required to undertake the actual degree.

The entry requirements for foundation degrees are much lower than for normal degrees, so you could still have access to a highly ranked university regardless of your lower than expected grades. Foundation years do mean you will carry an extra year’s worth of student debt, so it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons before taking this route.

Tip #5: Go through clearing at school or college

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I went through the clearing process at school with the support of my teachers and my mum, who helped me come to terms with the fact that just because my future didn’t look like what I had hoped, I could still be just as successful at a different university.

Having the support of knowledgeable people around you is invaluable when making choices about your future under pressure. So, resist the urge to grab your results and go home and use the assistance available to you to help you make the best of the situation.

Tip #6: Identify the edge you have over other students

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When calling clearing hotlines, explain why you feel you should be given more consideration. Is one of your results just a few marks shy of the grade above? Have you been involved in anything extracurricular that will make you a more desirable student to have?

Clearing operators are given a level of discretion when offering places to students, so give them an excuse to make an exception for you if your grades are still slightly below the clearing entry requirements.

Tip #7: Ask for the supervisor

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If you don’t feel you’re getting anywhere talking to the operator you were assigned when you called the clearing hotline, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to their supervisor. Supervisors have more power and are allocated a number of places to offer, so explain to them why they should offer you one of them. There is a chance they will say the same thing as the person you spoke to before, but it’s your future we’re talking about, so it’s worth a try.

If you do miss out on the grades you wanted this year, don’t forget that clearing isn’t your only option, you could also stay at sixth form or college to improve them and try again next year. There is absolutely no shame in dropping back a year, because in the grand scheme of things, one year isn’t all that long.

Whatever happens on Thursday, make sure you know your options and are prepared for every possibility. Last of all, good luck!

Lead image: City of Stoke on Trent Sixth Form (Flickr)

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