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University clearing guide 2018

Didn't get the grades for your chosen uni? Clearing is your second bite at the cherry – and could leave you with a sweeter deal to boot.
applying through clearingCredit: Matt CardyLast year, a record 70,000+ students found a place through clearing, with an increasing number using the service to bag their uni place a bit later in the game.

Stick with us and we'll show you how Clearing works – and how best to work it to your advantage.

What is ‘Clearing'?

vacancy signCredit: Lauren Mitchell – FlickrClearing is a UCAS service that hooks students without a uni offer up with universities that have spaces to fill – essentially, it's a second chance to grab a space at your preferred uni if you didn't make the first round.

Clearing officially runs between 1st July and 22nd October this year, but some universities wait until A-Level results day (17th August 2017) and Scottish Highers results day (8th August) to start listing vacancies, while others (Oxford and Cambridge, or those with very popular courses, such as Medicine) may not play ball at all.

If you're willing to be flexible, you'll be able to shop around for a decent course. You're better placed to make uni choices once you've got your results in-hand, and there's no stigma to applying through clearing at all. You'll never be treated any differently to students who got in first time round, and what's more – no one will ever even know you got in through clearing either.

Who can apply through Clearing?

confusedYou're eligible for Clearing if your UCAS Track status says ‘You are in Clearing' or ‘Clearing has started'. If you've missed your grades but don't see this message then give your universities a call – they may still be considering you.

Some universities could still offer you a place even if you didn't get your grades, so always ring up your choices to check first before you dive headfirst into clearing – note that you can't apply for clearing unless you've spoken with the university first.

You should be up for clearing if any of these are true for you:

  • UCAS received your application after 30th June. If you sent your application after this date, it won't have been sent to any universities or colleges.
  • You didn't get the grades needed for your offered places
  • You've changed your mind about your chosen course or university and want to apply for something else.


confident superheroIf you did better than expected grades-wise, our advice about choosing and finding a better match still stands – the only difference is that you'll use something called ‘Adjustment' between 17th August (A-Level results day) and 31st August instead of Clearing.

You sign-up for Adjustment through UCAS Track (either when your conditional offer becomes unconditional, or on results day), and get a five-day window to scope out better offers. You won't lose your unconditional offer, but have a bit of wiggle room to see what else is out there if you feel inclined.

There's no separate vacancies list, so it's up to you to sniff out the spaces and get in touch with the unis – keep reading for tips on how to find and pitch for a place!

Finding and choosing courses

detectivefindsClearing may seem like a flash sale, but it's still worth taking time to research which universities or courses to apply for. Talking through your options with your school or college's adviser is no bad thing, either.

  • Check out course specifics: entry requirements, placements, the type of degree you'll get, and any extra course costs or supplies you'll need
  • Tip a nod to uni features: location, accommodation, teaching, facilities, social aspects – and how costs stack up against your money plan
  • Get a handle on the local area, too – we've got guides to some of the big university cities to help you make your choice.

Where to find vacancies

University websites are your first port of call – they have the most accurate and up-to-date information on vacancies (which we guess kinda makes sense). As well as specific uni sites, check out the UCAS course search.

The Telegraph publishes a full list of places with phone numbers (handy).

Remember that the majority of vacancies won't be listed until results day in August.

How to apply through Clearing or Adjustment

Rugby scrumCredit: Chris Brown – FlickrThe post-results day scrum can be brutal: get prepped so you can grab what you need and get out ASAP!

Be prepared

  • If you haven't already paid the full fee (i.e., only made a single course application of £11), you'll need to stump up an additional £11 to use Clearing or Adjustment (full UCAS fee is £22)
  • Keep your UCAS ID/Clearing number to hand – grab them from your UCAS account
  • Save any vacancy phone numbers for universities you're interested in to your mobile
  • Be aware they'll be incredibly busy on results day, so keep an eye on the uni's Facebook/Twitter feeds for live updates
  • Treat it like a job application: expect to sell your best bits to universities still filling spaces (and be prepared for phone interviews)
  • Don't think you've got to take the first place you're offered – three years (or more) is a long time to devote to a course or city you're not totally committed to, so think hard before making any moves!

Step-by-step guide to applying

dog on laptop

  1. Results day: Check your UCAS account to see if you made the grades for any conditional offers, and any status updates.
  2. If you didn't make the grade: Contact the uni first – they may still be able to offer you something.
  3. Take action if you've changed your mind: Did better than expected? Consider using Adjustment – you won't lose any unconditional offers you already have. Otherwise, if you have a place but still fancy having a go at Clearing, you'll need to ask the uni to release your existing offer first.
  4. Choose your ideal unis/courses: Once you've identified subject areas which suit you, get searching for vacancies. Places may go quickly so if don't hang around if you see something you like the look of – get in touch with the uni as soon as you can.
  5. Contact your new choices: Some universities will have help lines open from 8am on results day (heads-up: they may be jammed, so don't give up if you don't get through first time). 
  6. Stay alert: An additional Clearing service for 2018 will let institutions contact students directly to offer spare places – UCAS will let you know if you're eligible. If you are, keep your phone with you at all times!
  7. Pass on your deets: Universities will want your results and your Clearing number or ID. You might need to do a quick phone interview, so be ready to talk about why you think this uni's a good choice for you, what you can contribute and why you like the subject (check out our top 5 phone interview tips here!).
  8. Get your offer:If it all goes to plan, you should find yourself with a provisional offer. You then need to add the university's details into your Clearing choices on your UCAS account. Wait for official confirmation of your new place by letter/online alert. If you're going through Adjustment, don't verbally accept an offer unless you're sure you want the place – as soon as you give them an answer, the uni will update your account online.
  9. Do your victory dance: Off to uni? Get the score on what's to come: what to take to unisurviving freshers' week and getting your head around uni life!

Tips on calling universities

shouting phone
In addition to our more general guide to acing phone interviews, here's some more Clearing and Adjustment-specific tips to consider before you jump on the line.

  • This is your chance to shine: Treat this like a job interview and prepare your best bits before you hit the phones (and keep the paperwork handy in case you need a prompt!).
  • Stay calm and smile (so what if they can't see it) : Universities want to fill their spare places. They're looking for well-matched students – they're not out to trip you up or catch you out, so don't be nervous.
  • Know your stuff: Show that you're interested in this particular uni (and haven't just picked any old course with space!).
  • Sell yourself: Make a list of why you're a good match for this course and your future ambitions. Talk up your best bits and try to sound positive.
  • Don't give up: You might not get your first, second or even third choices, but stick with it if you don't nail it on the first go.
You might still have the opportunity to go on a university open day after going through Clearing or Adjustment. That way you'll get a feel for the university before Freshers' week…

Alternatives to Clearing

signpostGoing to uni isn't a one-size-fits-all route – you've got options whatever you decide.

If you still want to go to uni

Missed your grades, but not keen on Clearing?

  1. Ring the university that declined your offer and ask if there's any way that you could still attend (perhaps by accepting a foundation year or joint course instead). It's rare to get in this way, but could definitely be worth a go.
  2. Ask for an A-Level remark or appeal. If you think you were unfairly graded then talk to your school or college about whether a remark is a good idea. Once again, though, this won't guarantee you a place.

Alternatives to university

If you missed out on your top university and your back-up choice, you might decide that university isn't for you at this moment in time.

You've got tonnes of options – try one, try 'em all, or do something completely different. Your call!

For example, you could…

  1. Get a head start by going straight into employment
  2. Re-take your A-Levels
  3. Have a gap year (which will also make you more employable in the long-run)
  4. Start your own business!

Got questions, or want to share your top tips and triumphs? Let us know below. Good luck!

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