Guide to Clearing

Young woman looking happy on phone

Even if your grades don't go the way you've been hoping, you don't have to give up on uni

If you don't get the results you needed, you can use Clearing to ensure you still find a university place in 2021.

You can also use Clearing if you make your firm choice but want to decline the offer.

Clearing is a way for universities and colleges to fill the places they've got left on their courses. If you miss your offer, it provides a second chance at getting onto a uni course.

Plenty of highly ranked universities have Clearing places every year. In 2021, Warwick, Bristol and Exeter are among the universities offering course places in Clearing. Over on our sister site The Uni Guide you can find a round-up of the highest-ranking universities in Clearing this year

Once your results are out, you can see if you're eligible for Clearing by checking your Track. That's also where you will find your Clearing Number (which universities need to access your Ucas application). 

Clearing 2021 started on 5 July and officially runs until 19 October. Vacancies are advertised from early July onwards and are constantly updated in the run-up to A-level results day on Tuesday 10 August 2021.

How Clearing works

Clearing is all about grabbing the phone and talking directly to universities. You can speak to as many universities as you like, to find out what courses they have and whether they would consider you for a place. You can receive verbal offers from more than one uni, before making your decision.

If you get an offer, the uni will give you a course code and institution code. They'll also tell you how long the offer lasts (normally up to 48 hours). You don't have to accept straight away; you can carry on calling around to see what other offers you can pick up. 

Once you've decided on one, you need to enter the details on Ucas Track using the 'Add a Clearing Choice' button.

This button will only appear once Track becomes fully functional. 

You can only enter one choice, and – here's the really important bit – you must have discussed your application with the university first. 

Although the system will let you add in a course at any point, the uni won't accept you if you haven't already agreed an offer. That will mean you're locked out of adding any other choices until that original uni removes your request. Don't do it: you'll probably waste loads of time and you could miss out on the course you actually want.

Useful things to remember about Clearing 2021

  • Just because you're in Clearing doesn't mean you've failed! Many people go into Clearing with high grades; many others choose to go straight into Clearing so they can talk directly to universities about their application.
  • There are lots of places available. More than 70,000 students found a uni place via Clearing in 2020. 
  • There's a huge choice. Unis use Clearing to fill up their final remaining places, so there are hundreds of top courses to be found.
  • You can apply for any subject you like in Clearing, just take care to ensure you really want to study it for three or more years.
  • Don't rush into a decision. Use the time you've been given on the uni offers. 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.
  • Remember: 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.
Students browsing online

Getting ready for Clearing 2021

Clearing lists went live on Ucas Search on 5 July. Take a look at what's there, and bear in mind that more will be added on A-level results day

Doing this will give you an idea of what's available, and you can check the entry requirements to see which courses will be a realistic target.

Once you've found some interesting courses, dig a little deeper by checking the relevant uni websites. You want to make sure the course is suitable – for example, one uni's history degree may be very different from another's. You can find all the contact details you need in our Clearing contacts directory.

If you've already got your results and know you are in Clearing, you can start talking to unis about places. If you're waiting on results, draw up a list of the courses you like so that you're ready for results day. 

Either way, once it's time to call up for places, you're going to sound informed and motivated. That's going to make you 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.

teenager smiling on phone

How to use Clearing once you've got your results

To be eligible for Clearing, you need to have applied in the current application year, have not withdrawn your application and have paid the full £25 Ucas application fee. 

If you have only paid £20 and made a single choice, then you will need to pay a further £5 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 don't be shy about seeking advice from Ucas or other students on TSR

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. You can then start phoning around universities for places.

If you're not holding any offers

If you applied through Ucas before 30 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. 

If you already have your exam results, you can immediately start contacting universities and colleges about the possibility of a place. If you're waiting on exam results, you should wait until you have these results first. 

If you have not applied through Ucas yet, or applied after 30 June

If you apply through Ucas after 30 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 five universities/courses to apply for. This will cost the usual £25 fee.

You'll get your Clearing number as soon as your application has been processed by Ucas. Again, if you've got your exam results, you can start contacting unis straight away — otherwise you'll need to wait until you get your exam results.

Girls on laptop

What to do once you're in Clearing

For a comprehensive list of all the courses available in Clearing, your best bet is the Ucas website. Its listings are constantly updated. Most unis also have lists prominently displayed on their own websites. 

You can also sign up for TSR's customised Clearing emails. We'll get universities to email you directly with vacancies in your preferred courses. 

And there's also Clearing Plus. This Ucas tool provides a list of universities with available Clearing places that have been specifically matched to you, alongside the university's contact details so you can easily get in touch with them. 

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. Before you start doing that you need to prepare. 

Start off by checking through the Ucas listings and noting down 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 keep ringing 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 they 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.

Contacting universities in Clearing 2021

Don't rush to contact universities, as you want to make a good first impression. Clearing places do go quickly but spending a bit of time preparing is always going to help you.

You're best off contacting unis by phone. Email addresses and webforms are also an option, but calling direct means you can ask all the questions you've got about the course. Replies may be made by email so check your emails (including junk mail) regularly. 

It's important that you make the call, not your mum or your teacher. On results day it's a good idea to go home to make calls, if you can, 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 you should 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'll 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.

teenage student on laptop

Where can I go to get advice?

The Student Room

If you've not already found it, don't miss TSR's Clearing, Applications and Ucas forum or try the subject or university-specific forums. Just start a thread detailing your question and someone will come back to you with advice. 

People around you

It can help to get moral support and advice 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.


If you're having any trouble with your Clearing application, you can call Ucas on 0371 468 0 468. Here are all of the Ucas contact details.

Alternatives to Clearing

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 can't 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.

Taking a 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 money on tuition fees, accommodation and living costs.

Sometimes the courses you're interested in just may not turn up in Clearing and by waiting a year you can apply to the full choice of courses and universities on an equal footing with everyone else. 

A gap year can also be a good opportunity to add to your experiences, either through paid employment, traveling or voluntary work. If this sounds like something you're interested in, read our guide to gap years

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 to improve your grades if you didn't get the grades you wanted, 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. 

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