Clearing Checklist

2022 Update

I wrote this post for A Level results day last year. If anything, the 2022 results carry even more uncertainty. For students, parents and teachers. We had a return to exams in school, but for a cohort that had not sat exams for GCSEs, had coped with lockdown, and then coped with A level study under pandemic conditions. Add to that Ofqual’s move to a ‘midway point’ for grades and record competition for university places, and it’s a tense time for all concerned.

I hope this checklist will be helpful for anyone using the UCAS Clearing system to find a university place this year.

Clearing checklist

The 2020-21 school year was different from any that went before but one constant is the UCAS Clearing process for university grades. Here’s my checklist for those using this system:

  1. Wait until you have your grades. While UCAS open clearing early in July, universities can’t make an offer to 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.

You may want to take some time to think about if this is the right time to go to university. Your friends or family may be encouraging you to go but it’s a decision you need to make for yourself. Retaking exams might be the right decision, or employment might provide additional experience for a future application. Whatever you decide, best wishes for your chosen future!

Moving to Remote Working

I have a new-found respect for my ancient laptop, having just moved to home working as part of efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19.

I work in the Education team at The Bodleian, the library of the University of Oxford. We work with visiting schools, teaching about the collections and exhibitions. Like many organisations, in response to government guidance the library has closed to visitors (although online services remain available) and all staff who can have moved to remote home working.

Much of my last day at work was spent preparing for this. With a background in school teaching, I had not had much experience of this (schools generally like you to be with the pupils you’re teaching) but I brought my chunky laptop to work to set it up.

There are a plethora of tools to assist remote working, but the team chose to use those most readily available. To some extent this was determined by those acceptable for use within the university, but that did have the advantage of support from the ICT services team. I think this is an important point. There is almost too much advice on what tools to use, with plenty of opinion on which are the best. What matters, particularly when quick set up is needed, is those which are available and for which you have good support. So while the options we chose – MS Teams – was good for a team used to using Outlook and Microsoft Office applications, for a group used to using, say, Google applications it would be better to choose tools which integrated with that suite.

Old but still got it!

Given the age of my Toshiba 660 laptop, it’s obsolete operating system, limited RAM, and hard drive already bursting at the seams, I approached setting up with some trepidation, concerned that it would no longer be supported, or might just fall over under the strain! In the end I need not have worried. For the record (and to make me seem much more tech-savvy than I actually am) the process involved:

  • Installing Cisco AnyConnect Client (fortunately there was one available for Windows 7)
  • Connecting to a VPN
  • Mapping network drives I would need to access
  • Connecting using the appropriate security credentials
  • Downloading and installing Microsoft Teams and linking with the relevant work teams

That went very well at work. Admittedly, at one point I began to doubt that I knew how to spell my own name, let alone All the passwords I had to juggle (no, DON’T use just one!) and I did have to make one call to a very calm and collected IT services engineer (thank you) but generally it was much more straightforward than I had feared.

A pity, then, that when I got home nothing worked! I remapped the drives on the advice of colleagues who had similar problems, but it turned out to be an issue with the VPN pathway. When I sorted that it all came to life. Well, apart from having to reinstall the MS Teams app the first time I tried to use it. After that it worked like a dream; admittedly a slightly flaky dream where things judder a bit occasionally and there’s a slight delay in most actions, but things worked acceptably.

I didn’t find the MS Teams layout particularly intuitive at first, but once I got the hang of it, everything seemed to do what it was meant to, so we’re happily messaging and even doing video team meetings (sorry about the neon running top colleagues). I like the way it integrates with other MS features like outlook calendars, contacts and OneDrive.

I have to say though, what I’m most pleased about is the performance of my nine year old laptop, on its second battery, with it’s ten year old operating system and Office 2007 applications. It makes you wonder whether the shiny new hardware and expensive upgrades that are pushed at us are really worth it. A bit like me, there may be newer, slimmer models available, but there’s life in the old dog yet!

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 find things are less straightforward and who may want to enter 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. Increasingly, many students are waiting for their results and applying through clearing – Clearing becoming route of choice.

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 today, over thirty years later. 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.

Clearing Checklist

  1. Wait until you have your grades. While UCAS open clearing early in July, universities can’t make an offer to 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 and what you really want. Best wishes for your chosen future!