From Darkness to Light

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Clearing: a place where the sun shines through

Students receive their A Level and BTEC results this Thursday. For all who took exams there is the sense of relief that the long wait is finally over, for many jubilation that they got the grades they need for their dream course at university, but for some disappointment that they didn’t quite make it.

Well done to all those who found what they hoped for inside that envelope, but this post is for those who are entering UCAS clearing, the system that matches remaining places with students looking for a course.

It may seem that a door has closed in your face, but really clearing opens up a wealth of opportunities. I gained my university place through clearing and, looking back, it was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up going to a University I had originally applied for, just on a different course. I got to spend my time studying a subject I still love, at what is now called a ‘Russell Group’ university. I made great friends and met a wonderful woman who later became my wife.

The fact that I’d gained my place through clearing made no difference once I got to University. After gaining my first degree it was no barrier to further study: I went on to gain a PhD.  I then went on to a fabulously rewarding career; no employer has ever been interested in my route into university, only the qualifications I gained.

I didn’t know any of that when I opened my A level results envelope in 1985 (yes, that long ago!), but what seemed like a bit of a disappointment at the time, in fact led to a world of opportunity.

Right now colleges are clamouring for you to be a student at their campus next month. Many will have unfilled places on courses and some will have reserved places for candidates from clearing. My advice to you is to see clearing as the opportunity it is – a place where the sun can shine through, enabling you to see a new path to your future.

Top Ten Tips on Clearing

  1. Wait until you have your grades. While UCAS open clearing early in July, universities can’t make an offer you you unless you know your grades.
  2. Make sure you know how clearing works. UCAS explain it here: What is clearing?
  3. Have your personal statement to hand as well as your grades and UCAS ID. You’ll need to be able to speak about yourself, not just your grades.
  4. Do some research on colleges. You may want to go for an alternative course at a university that made you an offer, alternatively you may be phoning a uni you didn’t originally apply to. Either way, you will need to give a positive reason why you want a place there.
  5. Similarly, research the courses on offer. You should be able to give a positive reason for doing that course and be able to say why it interests you.
  6. Avoid reasons that will set alarm bells ringing for tutors. Examples are ‘My friend is going there’ or ‘My Dad thinks it’s a good idea’.
  7. Be ready to explain why you got lower grades than you expected. Was it down to a particular topic? Did something happen that affected your performance? Show that you have reflected on this and remain positive about your subjects. Be ready to talk about what went well and areas of study you enjoy.
  8. You need to make the call yourself. The university want to hear from you and learn about you, not your teacher or your mum!
  9. Don’t worry about being nervous when you call, the tutor you speak to will be used to this, but do be prepared to speak clearly. Write out a sheet with key points and have this in front of you when you call.
  10. If you get an offer, don’t forget to add this as a clearing choice in UCAS track. Only do this when the university give you permission.

Is now the right time?

You may also want to take some time to think about if this is the right time to go to university. Your friends may be going and your school or family may be encouraging you to go through clearing? But it’s a decision you need to make for yourself.

It may be that retaking some exams is right for you. Perhaps a gap year or employment will provide additional experience you can add to a future application. You may just want to take more time to think or get more advice.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s your decision. Best wishes for your chosen future.