Talk your way onto your perfect course
With no exams happening this year, you might be feeling a bit unsettled about your university application. But even though exams have been replaced by calculated grades, the university admissions process is broadly the same as ever.
If you've applied to university and your grades don't match your agreed offer, you can choose to find another place in Clearing.
The Ucas website makes it pretty easy to find available places. Once you've found some suitable ones, the next step is to ring them up.
Talking to university admissions staff is an essential part of the Clearing process. You get to find out more about the university and its course, and you also get to explain why you should study there before receiving a verbal offer.
It's not a call you need to worry about making, but a bit of preparation will ensure you've got a great chance of getting an offer.
So what do admissions staff really want to hear? We asked an expert, Nottingham Trent University's associate director of admissions and applicant engagement Amy Smith, to share her advice.
Know your target
Don't call up without doing your research first. You want to be showing off your enthusiasm for a particular course or area, not randomly asking about what's on offer.
"We would encourage students to do their research for Clearing courses and locations in the exact same way as during the main Ucas cycle, so they can make an informed decision," says Amy.
"Take a virtual tour. Look at websites or prospectuses and talk to the people that know you best for advice, such as your teachers or a parent or guardian. Wherever you decide to go, your firm choice should be your preferred choice.
"By accepting a Clearing offer, you’re committing to that university or college, so you should be sure it’s somewhere you really want to go and spend the next three, four or more years."
It’s not just the course that you need to think about – you’ll also want to suss out whether the uni is the right place for you.
"It’s really important to think not only about the subject or type of course that you’re interested in, but also the wider university," says Amy.
"Whereabouts in the country is it? Is it a campus or a city site? Does the course have loads of exams or coursework, and what would suit you better? Where are you going to live and how much will it cost?"
Understand the process
If you know what to expect before calling up, it’s a lot easier to be confident and comfortable. You won’t be kept on the phone for hours by each uni, although you can expect them to be thorough.
"The call only takes a few minutes, and you will speak to one of our trained Clearing team," says Amy.
"We’ll take some personal details (name, date of birth, email address etc), ask about qualifications (including Level 2 qualifications such as GCSEs or equivalent, and Level 3 such as A-levels, BTECs or Cambridge Technicals) and find out which course you’re interested in.
"It’s also important to know that our admissions team can also answer questions. It’s not a one-way conversation, so don’t be afraid to ask if there’s something you want to know."
Don’t presume that the first person you speak to on a Clearing call will be the person making the decision on your offer. A lot of universities will have a team of staff whose job is to answer the phone and then put you through to the relevant department or academic.
"We have trained Clearing staff answering our calls, including people from our admissions and student recruitment teams, student ambassadors and other staff from across the university," says Amy.
"You might be put through to an academic if you are applying for an interview course, or transferred to the accommodation team if you need to speak to them, but generally you’ll just talk to one of our Clearing team."
Have your info ready
Write down all your questions before you call – that way you won’t forget anything.
You’ll also be better prepared if you’ve got your personal info easily to hand. Make sure even the most basic information is written out clearly, as this will make the call easier and you'll sound more composed and confident.
Make notes on how you’ll reply to possible questions on the call. For example, you may be asked why you are interested in the course or where you think the degree will take you in the future. Think about this before you pick up the phone.
If you’re eligible for Clearing you’ll find your Clearing number in UcasTrack. You’ll need to give this to admissions when you call.
Make sure you have a pen and paper to take down any important information, a list of any questions that you want to ask and your contact details in case the university needs to get back in touch with you.
There’s no getting away from it – making calls in Clearing can be stressful. Take a deep breath before you dial the number, and remember to stay calm throughout the conversation.
"We understand that Clearing can be a confusing and stressful time, but our staff are here to help you to find a suitable course based on your results, we want to talk to you!" says Amy.
"Take deep breaths, speak slowly and take your time. Have all your results information to hand to help keep calm and focused on the phone, and ask any questions that you need to."
Although it might seem obvious, you should also make sure it’s you that’s making the call. Universities can’t discuss your application with your mum, your dad or anyone else for that matter, so take a minute to relax and then make the call.
Ultimately it will work in your favour to be the one ringing up, as it gives you a chance to show your personality.
Finally, make sure you know what to do and when.
"If you are offered a place on A-level results day, you’ll need to wait until 3pm to add your Clearing choice via Ucas Track, and you can only add one," adds Amy.
"Finally, if you can’t find the course that you are looking for listed on UCAS or the institution’s website, it is worth calling the university or college to see if any spaces have become available, or to discuss other courses that you might be interested in."