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University Clearing guide 2021

Didn't get the grades for your chosen university? No need to panic – through UCAS Clearing, you could soon find yourself with a place at a dream uni, studying what you love.

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Each year, tens of thousands of students get university places through clearing.

To make sure that the choice you make through Clearing is the right one – both in terms of the university and degree – it's super important to take your time and not rush into any decisions.

For the happiest outcome, we'd recommend some solid research and preparation. Stick with us, and we'll show you how Clearing works, and how best to use it to your advantage.

What is UCAS Clearing?

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If you miss the UCAS deadline or don't make the grades needed to get into your firm or insurance choice universities, you can use UCAS Clearing to grab spots at universities that have spaces to fill. Essentially, it's a second chance to get a place at university.

The process is a lot quicker and more fluid than your initial UCAS application – it involves calling up universities to enquire about places, selling yourself over the phone and sometimes doing a quick telephone interview.

Once you've got a university place through Clearing, you'll be treated exactly the same way as any other student. In fact, it's likely that no one will even know you got your place this way, so there's no need to be worried about your grades being lower.

What is Clearing Plus?

Clearing Plus is a relatively new addition that automatically suggests courses for you to apply to.

The options it gives you are based on the qualifications and grades you have, as well as the courses you originally applied for, and will appear under a button labelled 'See matches' in UCAS Track.

You don't have to go with any of the courses presented to you by Clearing Plus (you still have access to the full selection of courses in Clearing), but it can act as a handy tool to point you in the right direction, and possibly even bring courses to your attention that you weren't previously aware of.

When is UCAS Clearing 2021?

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UCAS Clearing 2021 officially runs from 5th July – 19th October this year, but most Clearing places won't become available until Scottish Highers and A Level results day (10th August 2021).

Results for the International Baccalaureate are releaed on 5th July 2021 (although you may not receive them until 6th July 2021), and most BTEC students will get their results in the week beginning 9th August 2021. So while you can start looking for courses as soon as you'd like, you might want to wait until mid-August to get the most choice – even if your results arrive beforehand.

If you think your exams went badly, and you're convinced there's no way you're going to meet your grades for your firm or insurance choices, you might be tempted to apply through Clearing before results day – but we'd advise against this.

There's a chance you'll do better than expected, and even if you do miss your grades (especially if it's just by one grade), sometimes universities will offer you a place anyway. As such, it's best to know for sure before you make any rash decisions.

However, regardless of how well you think you've done, it's best to prepare for Clearing before results day, just in case.

Who can apply through UCAS Clearing?

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You can use Clearing if any of the following apply to you:

  • You didn't get the grades to meet your firm or insurance choices
  • You didn't receive any offers
  • You're applying after 30th June
  • You've changed your mind about your chosen course or university and want to apply for something else.

If you're unsure whether any of these apply to you, it's worth noting that if you're eligible for Clearing, you should see an 'Add Clearing choice' button on your UCAS Track Choices screen. If you've missed your grades but don't see this option, give your universities a call – they may still be considering you.

If you only just miss out on the required grades (for example, you get AAB instead of AAA), then there's still a good chance your university might accept you. With that in mind, you should always ring up your choices to check first before you dive into Clearing.

Exceeded your grade requirements and want to see if there's something better out there? You can apply through Adjustment instead.

How to prepare for Clearing

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Even if you wait until results day to decide whether you need (or want) to apply through Clearing, you should still spend some time preparing for it, just in case.

Things move pretty fast once you've got your results, so it's important to think about what your contingency plan is going to be. We'd recommend the following:

  • Make a list of some possible courses and unis you'd like to apply to (and prioritise them).
  • Jot down contact details for unis and departments (although unis often run special Clearing helplines on and after results day).
  • Do some practice interviews – consider common interview questions and plan some answers to them. You should also have a think about why you're passionate about your course or university, and what previous experience you have in the area.

Daniel headshot

No one really prepared me to think about what I would do if I didn't get into any of my chosen unis.

I applied to study Biology, but I started to panic, just thinking I need to find somewhere because everyone else had got into their unis. At one point I even started thinking I might do Law.

I wasn't sure whether to change course to try and get into the same uni, or stick with the course and go to a different uni.

My advice would be to make sure you have a set plan in your mind before results day about what you want to do if you don't get your place.

Daniel, studied Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sunderland

Knowing which unis are the easiest (and hardest) to get into could help you focus your search for a place in Clearing.

Finding a course through UCAS Clearing

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It's easy for the panic and adrenaline to set in on results day, and many students feel the pressure to grab any university place they can get. But there's no point in rushing into a course or university which isn't right for you – after all, it's three years of your life.

Take some time (both before and after results day) to decide which universities or courses to apply for. Talking through your options with your school or college's adviser is no bad thing, either.

Be open-minded about both the course and university. Most top universities will have Clearing places (although they'll get snapped up fast), but it's more important to choose somewhere that suits you than it is to choose somewhere just because it's viewed highly by others.

If you're worried that places on your chosen course might be competitive, consider combining it with another subject to do a joint degree instead – this will broaden your options substantially.

Before you commit to anything make sure you consider the following:

  • Course specifics – Entry requirements, placements, the type of degree you'll get, and any extra course costs or supplies you'll need. Also look at how the course is assessed – if it's mainly essay-based and you hate writing essays, then you might struggle.
  • University features – Location, accommodation, quality of teaching, facilities, social aspects. Try not to get too hung up on league tables, but make sure the university offers what you want.
  • Local area – If it involves moving to the opposite end of the country, you'll have to factor in the travel costs to get home for the holidays.

Where to find Clearing places

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Your first port of call when it comes to finding Clearing places should be UCAS – they have live updates of which places are available at unis around the country, allowing you to search and browse.

Beyond that, check individual university websites as they'll have accurate and up-to-date information on any vacancies. Target the unis you picked out as part of your preparation.

However, it's important to be aware that some universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, or some courses, such as Medicine, are unlikely to offer Clearing places at all.

Beth headshot

Don’t make any rash decisions! Don't go to uni just because all your friends are going if it isn't the right course for you– your time will come, and you will have other opportunities.

And thoroughly research the course before applying – I thought my course would be mainly essay and theory focused, but it ended up being maths, stats and science – none of which I had a background in! I dropped out after 18 months.

Beth, studied Environmental Geoscience at Cardiff University

How to apply through UCAS Clearing

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Although you shouldn't panic and rush into accepting the first place you're offered, spots are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, so don't hang around when it comes to calling up universities.

And definitely don't book any holidays abroad around results day! The last thing you want to be doing is racking up call charges by calling unis from abroad.

Make sure you call the universities yourself (they won't be impressed if your mum calls on your behalf), and remember that lines will be incredibly busy so you might have to wait on hold for a while.

But don't give up! Check university Facebook and Twitter accounts for live updates on the phone line situation.

Applying through UCAS Clearing on A Level results day

Here are the best ways to find a university place through Clearing on results day:

  1. Check on results day morning – Check your UCAS account for any status updates and to see if you made the grades for any conditional offers.
  2. Contact your chosen unis – Even if you didn't make the grade, contact your chosen unis first. They may still be able to offer you something.
  3. Choose your ideal unis/courses – Once you've identified subject areas that suit you, get searching for vacancies. Places may go quickly, so don't hang around if you see something you like the look of. Get in touch with the university as soon as you can.
  4. Contact your new choices – Some universities will have helplines open from 8am on results day (the lines may be very busy, so don't give up if you don't get through the first time).
  5. Keep your phone switched on – Make sure your phone is fully charged and near you at all times in case universities call you to offer you a place.
  6. Have your details to hand – Universities will want your UCAS points and your Clearing number or ID. Use our checklist below to make sure you've got everything you need.
  7. Be prepared for a mini-interview – Some universities might want more than just your details. They might expect a quick phone interview too, 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 phone interview tips here!).
  8. Receive your university 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.
  9. Do your victory dance – Off to university? It's now time to celebrate and get the lowdown on what's to come: what to take to unisurviving freshers' week and getting your head around uni life.
If you haven't already paid the full fee (i.e. you only made a single course application for £20), you'll need to pay an additional £6 to use Clearing for 2021 entry.

Tips on calling universities

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In addition to our more general guide to acing phone interviews, here are some more tips to consider before calling universities to apply through Clearing:

  • Treat the phone call like a job interview – Before calling, think about your best selling points as a student (keep your CV and personal statement to hand in case you need a prompt).
  • Research the course – You don't need to know the entire course inside out before calling unis, but make sure you at least have a vague idea of what modules you'll be doing and what makes this course different from others.
  • List specific reasons you're applying for the course – Think about why this course is a good match for you and your future ambitions and note them all down ahead of the phone call. Talk up your best bits and try to sound positive.
  • Prepare questions to ask universities – This is a super quick way to impress your interviewer and demonstrate your interest in the course. For example, you could ask what kinds of graduate jobs their alumni have gone on to do, or how their course is structured and assessed.
  • Think about why you didn't make the grades – They might ask you this, so prepare an honest answer, and be upfront about any weaknesses you need to work on. This shows them you've learnt from your experiences and want to improve.

The first thing students must remember when applying to Clearing is that they must make the calls themselves – because of data protection regulations, universities can't speak to your friends and family on your behalf.

Before results day, spend some time practising what you might say on the phone to the Admissions team – sound positive about the course you're applying for and think of any questions you may want to ask to help you make your decision.

Northumbria University

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.

UCAS Clearing checklist: what will you need?

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When calling universities about Clearing, make sure you have the following things to hand:

  1. Your UCAS number
  2. Your Clearing number (this will appear on your UCAS application when you become eligible for Clearing on results day)
  3. The grades of your A Levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent
  4. Your UCAS points and GCSE grades (if you didn't make the grade in a particular A Level subject, a strong GCSE grade might help)
  5. A pen and paper to make notes and jot down contact details
  6. Your CV and personal statement to help you answer potential interview questions.

I ended up in university Clearing twice, stayed on a third year at college, missed offers, rejected offers and even ended up with none at all.

It really did seem as if I was going to spend the rest of my life going absolutely nowhere and, to be honest, I'm not convinced my parents were thinking much more optimistically.

Yet somehow I ended up graduating from a subject I love on a scholarship at one of the best courses in the country.

Jem Collins, founder of Journo Resources

What to do once you've accepted your Clearing place

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So, you've braved the perils of Clearing and come out of it with a place on a university course you're happy with. Firstly, congratulations!

The fun doesn't stop here, though. There's a couple of things you'll need to sort out pretty quickly to make sure you have a smooth start to university in September:

  1. Find your university accommodation – Most unis guarantee accommodation in halls to students who apply before a certain date, but if you get your place through Clearing you might miss out. Some unis will have spare spaces in halls, but others might direct you towards private halls or landlords instead. Contact the university accommodation office ASAP for more info.
  2. Update Student Finance – Your new university place might mean you receive a different amount of Maintenance Loan (e.g. if you're moving to London or staying at home), so update Student Finance to ensure you get all the money you're owed.

Alternatives to Clearing

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

If you still want to go to university

Missed your grades, but not keen on Clearing. You have a couple of options:

  1. Ring the university that declined your offer Ask if there's any way that you could still attend, perhaps by accepting a foundation year or joint course instead. It's slightly less common to get in this way, but could definitely be worth a go.
  2. Ask for a remark or appeal – If you think you were unfairly graded on your A Levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent, 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 firm and insurance choices, you might decide that university isn't for you at this moment in time.

You've got tonnes of options – try one, try them all, or do something totally different. It's completely your call.

For example, instead of going to university, you could:

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

Got a place on a course and not sure what to bring to university? We've got you covered.


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