The Clearing Process
Clearing is a way for universities and colleges to fill any remaining spaces for higher education courses starting in September 2012 and provides another opportunity for applicants without a confirmed place to acquire one. Eligibility for Clearing will show up on an applicant's UCAS Track, where you will also find your Clearing Number which universities will require to access your UCAS application. Clearing starts in July and runs until 22nd October (provided that you have made an application by 20th September 2012), but full vacancy lists are only really available after A-level results day on 16th August 2012. Scottish students receive their results earlier, so Scottish universities advertise some vacancies from 7th August for anyone already holding their results.
In Clearing, applicants contact universities with spaces directly to talk to them about the courses available and whether their application can be considered. You can contact as many universities as you like, and may receive verbal offers from several. If an offer is made, each university will provide you with a course code, institution code and a time period for which the offer is valid (typically 12-48 hours). When you have decided which offer you want to take up, you must enter the details on UCAS Track within the agreed time period using the 'Add a Clearing Choice' button. This button will only appear once Track becomes fully functional (around 5pm or later on Results Day). You can only enter one choice, and you must have discussed your application with the university first. If you enter a choice without having first spoken to the university you are likely to cause yourself significant delays and may even lose out on a course you were really interested in.
You can find out more about how Clearing works in our introduction to Clearing.
Things to remember
- Just because you're in Clearing does not mean you're a bad person or have failed! A lot of people go into Clearing with really high grades.
- Don't believe the scare stories in the media. Last year 47,000 applicants (10% of all university places) were placed through Clearing.
- Just because a course is in Clearing does not mean that it's a really bad course.
- Don't arrange to go away in the fortnight after A-level results day. You need to be around to deal with any problems.
- You can apply for any subject you like, as long as you're sufficiently interested in it to want to study it for 3 or more years.
- Don't rush into a decision and do your research to make sure the course and university are right for you.
- Don't add a Clearing choice on Track unless you have spoken to the university and they have asked you to apply.
- You don't have to go to university this year. If you're not sure you can always take a gap year and re-apply.
Preparing for Clearing
If you know you will be in Clearing
If you already know that you will be in Clearing, you can start looking for information, trying to decide where you want to go and contacting universities. Universities may publish vacancy information on their website several weeks before Results Day. Avoid contacting universities during the days immediately prior to results coming out unless they specifically mention that it is OK, as the system is frozen and universities won't usually speak to you during this period.
- Have a look to see what courses were still on offer in UCAS Extra at the end of June. Remember though that not all courses that were in Extra will be in Clearing, and there will be some in Clearing that didn't feature in Extra at any stage: this is simply a guide.
- Check out the entry requirements (do not assume they will be lowered for Clearing) and be realistic in terms of the grades you expect to achieve.
- Check out the university websites for those courses to make sure that the course content is suitable. Just because a course has the same name as another one that you like it doesn't mean that you will be studying the same content - they might be really different.
- Contact universities to state your interest before Results Day (especially if you're interested in Scottish unis but are waiting for A level results)
- Make a list of courses to look out for when the Clearing lists are published on Results Day.
This way, when you ring up about a course you will have the advantage of knowing something about it and will sound like a much more attractive candidate than someone who had never even heard of the course until 15 minutes before ringing the uni. Also, the more informed you are, the less likely you will be to make a bad choice in the heat of the moment.
If you don't know if you will be in Clearing
- It's often easier to work out what you definitely don't want rather than think about what you do want. Spending time evaluating your opinions of aspects like location, cost, course content and university "feel" will mean that you can be much more focused and level headed if you do end up using Clearing after results day.
- Think back to when you originally made your 5 choices and make a list - which universities/courses didn't you like? If you didn't want to go to a campus university or a university really far from home when you originally applied then it's unlikely that you will want to go there now.
- Consider related subjects to the one that you originally applied for and consider joint honours (ie: English and History) options if you originally applied for single honours (eg: English) courses. Some courses have extremely similar content but might have different names meaning applicants don't always realise that the course content is similar. Likewise, other courses have identical names but the course content can be incredibly different. Reading the detailed course information on university websites in advance will better prepare you to consider these issues on results day.
How do I enter Clearing?
You are eligible for Clearing if you have applied in the current application year, you have not withdrawn your application and have paid the full £22 UCAS application fee. If you have only paid £11 and made a single choice, then you will need to pay a further £11 to UCAS to use Clearing.
If you missed your firm and insurance offers and they both rejected you
If you missed both your firm and insurance offers and UCAS Track is showing that you were Unsuccessful, then your Clearing number will show on Track and you are already in Clearing. If you didn't have an insurance offer, then the same applies to you if you missed your firm offer and it shows as Unsuccessful. Start phoning around universities with vacancies that you are interested in and provide them with your Clearing number. Admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might make you a verbal offer.
If you missed your firm and insurance offers but either one decides to take you with lower grades then you cannot enter Clearing without first arranging to be Released from your existing confirmed place (see below).
If you missed your firm and insurance offers and one or both are still showing as Conditional
If you missed your firm and insurance offers but one or both is still showing as Conditional on Track then phone up your firm and/or insurance. If they tell you that you are unsuccessful but it isn't showing in Track, ask them how long it will be before they let UCAS know. Similarly if your firm or insurance say they're still deciding whether to confirm your place ask them when you will know. They aren't supposed to keep you hanging on for too long because it stops you from applying elsewhere through Clearing. If they drag their feet over making a decision then contact UCAS, or if you don't want to wait any longer then you can ask them to reject you. Being kept hanging by your firm or insurance is one of the most difficult positions to be in, so do not be shy about seeking advice from UCAS or TSR's team of Clearing Advisors.
If you're waiting for a rejection to show on Track you can still phone Clearing universities, but they won't be able to access your application until you are officially in Clearing so they probably won't be prepared to make you a formal offer without it.
If you change your mind about your firm or insurance
If you no longer wish to go to your firm and/or insurance but you met the offer (or they're accepting you with lower grades) then you'll have to phone the universities concerned and ask them to release you. They'll probably want your reasons for doing this, but if you're firm about it they're not going to force you to attend a university you're not fully committed to. They might not release you straight away and it can take up to a couple of days, so do this as soon as possible so you don't miss out on the best places in Clearing.
Ideally, if you knew that this applied to you then you will already have done it before results day. Once your release has been processed, your Clearing number will show on Track. Start phoning around universities with vacancies that you are interested in and provide them with your Clearing number. Admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might make you a verbal offer.
If you are not holding any offers
If you applied through UCAS before 30th June but are not holding any offers then you will have been entered into Clearing automatically. This will apply to you if you rejected all of your offers, or you were unsuccessful in all of your applications. Your Clearing number will be available on Track from mid-July and if you already have your exam results, you can immediately start contacting universities and colleges about the possibility of a place. If you are awaiting exam results, you should wait until you have these results before contacting universities and colleges. With your Clearing number admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might make you a verbal offer.
If you have not applied through UCAS yet, or applied after 30 June
If you apply through UCAS after 30th June then you will go straight into Clearing. You need to complete a UCAS application as normal via the UCAS website including all of the usual things such as a personal statement and a reference. The only difference is that you will not be able to choose 5 universities/courses to apply for. This will cost the usual £22 fee.
Your Clearing number will show up on Track in mid-July, or as soon as your application has been processed by UCAS if submitted later than this. If you already have your exam results, you can immediately start contacting universities and colleges about the possibility of a place. If you are awaiting exam results, you should wait until you have these results before contacting universities and colleges. With your Clearing number admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might make you a verbal offer.
What to do once you're in Clearing
Hopefully you've already bought your copy of The Telegraph. The Telegraph is the only newspaper that lists full details of all Clearing vacancies, so it's an essential buy on Results day. Other newspapers may have Clearing information in, but will only be smaller (probably regional) guides. The most up to date information is available on the UCAS website and most universities will have lists prominently displayed on their own websites; some may even have webforms to fill in to register your interest and request further details.
You should read our top tips for surviving Clearing, but the most important thing is not to rush into calling universities and making decisions. The first step in Clearing isn't applying on Track, it's approaching universities by telephone, but before you start doing that you need to prepare. Start off with The Telegraph and highlight any courses which appeal to you. Rank them and make some notes on why a particular course and university interest you. Have a look at your personal statement to refresh yourself. If you're applying for a different course through Clearing then think about what experiences you have which show your aptitude and passion for the new course. Have you done anything more recently that wasn't on your PS? Did you get any particularly good results?
How many universities can I apply to?
You can approach as many institutions as you like and can receive multiple verbal offers over the phone, but you can only add one Clearing Choice on Track. That means you don't need to stop once you have your first offer, you can ring other universities you're interested in and try to get offers from those too, then decide which to take up later. Of course for many people they will have their mind set on one university and don't need to look around elsewhere once they have their offer from that institution. Whatever you do, don't add a Clearing choice on Track before a university makes you an offer by phone or email, if you do they may well just reject you, and until they reject you you can't apply anywhere else.
Do universities accept lower grades through Clearing?
Some will, but many won't. It depends on many factors, including the subjects you are offering, how many places are still available, or whether there are minimum subject requirements for a specific course. Since places are so competitive it is usually correct to assume that you still need to meet the entry requirements given on the university website and prospectus. The only way you'll know for sure is by asking them. They may be willing to accept you with lower grades if you're enthusiastic about the course, or if you have relevant work experience, so make sure you really try to sell yourself when talking to the admissions tutor.
Don't rush to contact universities, as you want to make a good first impression. Yes, Clearing places do go quickly but a few minutes to prepare yourself will help you more than hinder you. If they're the type of university that will offer places to the first people to contact them, rather than the best and most passionate students, do you really want to go there anyway?
The best means of contacting the university is by phone, although an increasing number of universities now allow you to register an interest via their website which avoids you having to stay on hold for ages only to be told they're not interested in you. Replies may be by email so check your emails (including junk mail) regularly. Remember that with webforms and emails it's easier to ignore a full inbox than a ringing phone; if you want to be at the front of the queue then the phone is always a better bet.
It's important that YOU make the call, not your mum or your teacher. It's a good idea to go home to make calls if it's not too far, as it will be quieter and you will have easy access to a phone and the internet. Keep your notes, pen, and UCAS details handy. Eventually, you'll need your Clearing number too. If you don't yet have your Clearing number you may still be able to talk to universities, but they won't be able to view your application and you won't be able to complete the final step of adding a Clearing choice on Track until you have one.
The universities will be very busy, so be prepared to wait. Initially you might just get through to an adviser who will take a few details. If your grades and experiences match what they're looking for, you'll either get called back by an admissions tutor or you might have to call them back at an agreed time. You'll have a chat which won't be that formal but remember you're trying to impress them rather than wanting to be their new best friend. The best thing to do is show your passion. They want to know about you personally, so try to sell yourself as best you can. This is also an opportunity to ask any questions that you have, for example you probably want to check what their accommodation policy is for Clearing applicants. If they make you a verbal offer, then ask them to follow it up with an email to confirm it, so that you have it in writing.
Adding a Clearing choice on UCAS Track
You can only add a Clearing choice on Track after 5pm on 16th August 2012 (or from the afternoon of 7th August until 6pm on the 8th August for Scottish students). The button won't appear until then, specifically to make sure that you have time to think about your decision rather than rushing into the first offer you get. You should only add a choice on Track if you have spoken to the university and received a verbal offer first. When making you a verbal offer, universities will also tell you how long the offer is valid for and you need to enter it in Track before this period ends, otherwise the university may give your place to someone else.
Find out as much as you can before deciding where you want to spend the next 3 or more years of your life. Don't just pick the first one that shows any interest in you! It's a good idea to talk things through with as many people as possible before deciding. You might want to go to university in Outer Mongolia, but that's no good if you're relying on your parents to drive you and your stuff there. But remember that in the end it is your decision: so if you're really sure Outer Mongolia is the right choice for you, go for it! If you can, try to get along to an Open day so that you can meet the tutors and other applicants, and can look around the university. Unfortunately the time pressures of Clearing may prevent you going before you need to make a decision, but it's worth asking about the opportunity to visit.
Once you have added a Clearing choice on Track it can take a short while for the university to accept your application. You will receive an email to confirm your place, your UCAS Track will show "Clearing Accepted" and an AS12 letter will be sent to you in the post.
Where can I go to get advice?
The most important place to look for advice is from people that know you. Talk to your parents, your teachers, and even your friends if they're not too busy panicking about their own situation.
UCAS advisers are available on their UCAS Twitter feed as well as on their Facebook page, where you can find the information you need. Alternatively if you have any difficulty with your Clearing application, please contact UCAS on 0871 468 0 468, where experienced and knowledgeable advisers are on hand to help. They are running extended opening hours over the Clearing period which you can check here.
If you're really stuck for ideas about alternative courses, you could try the Stamford Test which is available on the UCAS website. This can suggest which areas of study might suit you: even if you've already done this test before, it may remind you of other ideas which you'd previously overlooked.
Learn Direct can offer careers advice, and advise you on a wide range of courses in the UK. They can help you decide if uni is right for you, and tell you about other courses or possibilities. You can visit their website, phone them for free on 0800 100900.
The BBC has a lot of information on its website, such as this page. They also run an advice line, but currently the details for that are not available. You may hear adverts for their services on their radio stations, such as Radio 1.
Well, you've already found this page! But you can ask questions in the Clearing, Applications and UCAS forum or try the subject or university specific forum. Do think about where you're putting your question before posting it though: TSR gets very busy during the results period, and you'll receive a better response faster if you post in the right forum to begin with.
Alternatives to Clearing
To be eligible for adjustment you must have both met and exceeded your firm choice offer, so it is unlikely to apply to you unless you no longer wish to go to your first choice university. If you are eligible then it can be a better option than getting released by your university into Clearing, because it allows you to keep your existing firm choice while looking around for an offer elsewhere. You have a period of 5 days after your offer was confirmed to find another institution willing to accept you, otherwise you will be confirmed at your firm choice. There are no vacancy listings for Adjustment, but you can use the Clearing listings as a guide to what's available and vacancies will normally be published on a university's website. If you are eligible you can register for Adjustment on UCAS Track (the button appears for everyone and it is down to you and the universities you apply to to determine if you are eligible). For more information on Adjustment see the UCAS website.
Record of Prior Acceptance (also known as Direct Entry)
It may be possible to get a place at a university independently of the main UCAS system by applying directly to a university. This method of university entry is most commonly used by mature students who want to study locally and who are applying late but with a very clear idea of where they want to study. You would first need to contact the university you wish to apply to and explain your circumstances. If they can accept you this way, they will give you a form called a “Record of Prior Acceptance”. They should be able to advise you on how to complete it and when you need to return it by. Once they have processed your form you will receive an AS12 Confirmation letter from UCAS.
Not all institutions will accept applications this way, so it is strongly advised that you send an application through UCAS rather than relying on this method. If you use this method then you CANNOT change your mind and look elsewhere through Clearing; you are accepted at a single university and are committed to that university. If you change your mind you will have to take a gap year and re-apply through UCAS.
Gap Year and Re-applying
At any time before starting university you have the option to withdraw your application, take a gap year and re-apply for the following year. This may not be immediately appealing to you, but if you are not sure then it is usually a better option than studying a course at university which you won't be happy doing. It is better to withdraw now than to drop out later once you are at university and have spent up to £9,000 on tuition fees (plus any accommodation liability and living costs). Sometimes the courses you're interested in just may not turn up in Clearing and by re-applying you can apply to the full choice of courses and universities on an equal footing to everyone else. A gap year can also be a good opportunity to add to your experiences, either through paid employment, travelling or voluntary work.
Most universities don't mind gap year students but they do want to see that you've done something productive with your time out. Gap years are less well favoured for courses with high maths content, so you may want to do something to keep sharp. You can resit your A-levels if things didn't go so well to improve your grades, but it is a good idea to check the entry criteria of the universities you are interested in because some universities require that you complete your A-levels or equivalent qualifications within two years.