Is it possible to predict what universities will do on results day?

Worried girl

Worried about your grades and your chances of getting into uni?

Since the cap on uni places ended, unis have more flexibility and the option to be more lenient. But that doesn’t mean they’re just going to let everyone in. Remember there will still always be finite class sizes, teaching staff and access to accommodation and other facilities. 

Ultimately, until results day it is impossible to know what your university of choice will have decided. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel completely in limbo until then.

Here are all your big questions answered and some top advice on how to prepare if you think you might need to use Clearing.

Will unis accept people with lower grades in Clearing?

Every year, people get into uni when they've missed a grade or two, and some courses in Clearing ask for lower grades than their usual entry requirements. However, this isn't true of every course at every university.

Unis do this when they're struggling to fill a course with students with the previously advertised grade requirements. Basically, it happens when lots of students miss their offers. 

Your chances of being let in having missed a grade are higher when:

  • You've only missed one a grade e.g. you were asked for ABB and got ABC.
  • The grade you missed isn't in a subject directly relevant to the course, e.g. the C was in French, and you want to study history.
  • It's not a GCSE grade. Grades for GCSE English and maths are usually pretty hard requirements, if you miss the 4 or 5 the uni is asking for, you probably won't get a place even if you achieve or exceed the A-level grades you need.

It's not worth emailing or ringing unis to ask about this before results are out – the admissions departments won't be able to give you an answer.

Instead of worrying, try to focus on the things you can control. Maybe start researching courses and universities you might be interested in if you do end up using Clearing.

How can I tell if a particular course will be in Clearing?

The reality is that you can't. Until unis have results in, they won't know themselves about a lot of courses. Some courses which are under-subscribed are available in Clearing from 5 July, but even then, you can't be absolutely sure that spaces for these courses will still be available on results day. 

If you want to know about a particular course, the best thing to do is to look in back issues of the Telegraph on results day (available at your local library). UCAS doesn’t allow past Clearing places lists to remain published online after it closes so give up on Google now. It's best to look back at least 3 years to see which courses are regularly in clearing. If a course is only available one year, then it's probably a fluke. 

However, remember that every year is different. Different students choosing different courses at different unis which means that what happened two years ago or even last year bears no relevance to this year. A better use of your time would be to thoroughly research the courses that have places advertised in July and organise a visit if you haven’t already been to the uni’s open day. 

Some courses, such as medicine and nursing, are almost never available via Clearing and some unis, like Oxford, Cambridge and LSE, haven't chosen to offer places via clearing yet. 

When will Clearing vacancies be available?

Clearing opens on 5 July – so any courses that are definitely not going to be full in August (regardless of the results) should be listed at that point. This list will then be continually updated following IB results day (also on 5 July), SQA results day in Scotland on 6 August and leading up to the A-level results day on 15 August. 

Remember universities receive all A-level results four days before results day so they have plenty of time to make decisions on your grades ahead of 15 August. As they're making decisions in this time period, Clearing places will be continually updated online ready for results day. This is because Clearing places will be live in the UCAS search tool throughout the results period. Previously Clearing listings were temporarily removed a couple of days before results day and published at 6pm on the evening before A-level results. 

Another change made to the Clearing process in the last couple of years is that, on A-level results day, you will be able to add a Clearing choice from 3pm (UK time). The time was previously 5pm. 

student on laptop

Why is university x in Clearing? Aren't they really good?

Some universities will be in clearing because they've got the capacity and want to grow – whether they'll drop their grades or not will depend on what the market will bear. If they can recruit at AAA student in Clearing then that's what they'll be looking for, if they know that students with DDD can be taught well by their staff and eventually come out with a good degree then that's what they'll be looking for.

Last year the majority of universities in the UK (including the Russell Group) announced Clearing places in July. Places in Clearing doesn't mean anything about the quality of a university, in fact nearly almost all universities have at least one course in Clearing these days. If you want to know if a university is "good" or not then use a mix of Unistats and league tables to get the facts and figures. Talk on TSR to other students who have already applied to that uni or are currently studying there to find out what they think and what they like about it.

Some universities and colleges will fill up lots of courses in Clearing - quite often this is because they're in a town or city not many people have heard of, they're a specialist college or because they're just not very high profile among 16/17/18 year olds. As we all saw last year, prestigious universities had courses in Clearing and with the cap on uni places already lifted, there was more availability than ever before and this looks set to continue for this year.

Clearing 2018 advice

Who is most likely to get accepted with lower grades – firm students, insurance students or Clearing students?

Universities will always give preference to students who have shown some commitment already over anyone phoning up on results day in August for the first time. Dropout rates for Clearing students are much higher than for firm or insurance – and a student who drops out is a student that the university gets no funding for. 

The very last thing any university wants to do is to recruit students that they know have a high chance of failing or dropping out. That's a complete waste of their time and effort – they'd rather have fewer students than students who won’t do well. So if you phone up and get told you have no chance then believe them.

This preference for "safer bets" can be used to your advantage if you think you're likely to end up in Clearing. There is no harm in getting in touch early with universities, asking about courses, likely vacancies and sorts of qualifications they might be looking for, any chances of accommodation for Clearing students (this varies hugely so make sure you double check). 

There are usually open days in July and most unis run campus tours on a weekly basis too so try to visit and speak in person with one of the lecturers on the course you’re interested in or a member of the admissions team. If you've been in touch previously then often putting a face to a name in person could really work in your favour.

Will courses like medicine, vet med, dentistry and nursing be in Clearing?

Courses that interview, like medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry, are rarely listed in Clearing. That doesn't mean they don't recruit that way though – they just use the pool of students they've already interviewed and contact them directly to fill places. This can also apply to nursing and education courses. 

For nursing there may be a few spaces advertised (in some cases the local health education agency will ask universities to take additional students as late in the cycle as July) but they will require you to travel for an interview in the days following the results.

If you've contacted the universities that rejected you prior to results and got nowhere then it might be worth contacting some other choices prior to results to see if they might have space and offering to come in to interview. It’s hugely unlikely that this will be the case for child nursing or midwifery because they'll be easily able to fill up the course from current applicants. Adult and mental health nursing is more likely to have some space but numbers are usually extremely limited.

I have no offers - that means I can apply through clearing in July doesn't it?

Although Clearing opens in July you are not able to apply or are eligible for an offer until you have your exam results. Clearing offers are all unconditional - the UCAS code for them is UCC meaning "Unconditional Clearing Choice". 

My course is in Clearing - does that mean I've failed?

No – it just means there are still spaces available.

My course isn't in Clearing - does that mean I'll be rejected if I miss a grade?

No - it just means that the university currently expects to fill all their spaces from the students who have chosen them as firm or insurance. That could include accepting students with a grade or more lower.

I am expecting CCC - can I inquire or apply for a course that asked for ABB before Clearing begins?

This is likely to be a big waste of your time. Entry grades are a benchmark for the capability unis expect from students. In this example, the grades you're expecting aren't close enough to the grades the uni is asking for. In Clearing this course might drop to BBB but that all depends on both the course and the university’s circumstances. 

Universities might post specific grades on their online Clearing pages, in which case you know exactly where you stand.

Some unis won’t have specific grades for Clearing. In this situation it is worth a phone call if you're within a few (up to three) grades of their standard offer.

Clearing 2018 advice

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