Ucas Clearing: how might it be different this year?

students in a lecture

A university admissions expert explains how Clearing might be affected in a year when everything has changed

With exams cancelled and university campuses still closed, it’s natural to feel unsettled about your university application. 

If you don’t yet have a firm offer in place – or you’re worried about the calculated grades you might receive – then it’s worth taking some time to look into Clearing. 

By doing a little research into the places available through Clearing, you could find your way onto your perfect course. That’s particularly true this year, when Covid uncertainty means some universities may have more spaces than usual.

We spoke to Katie Jenkins, director of future students at UWE Bristol, to find out how you can prepare, and what might be different about the Clearing process this year.

What is the same?

The first thing to know is that Clearing is open as usual and the general process will be unchanged. 

You can apply for a course using Clearing from 5 July until 19 October, if you don’t already have an offer and the course you’re applying for still has places. 

Most of the activity in Clearing happens on, and just after, A-level results day (10 August). But if you already have your results you can start applying from July.

What’s different?

Logistically, not much has changed for students, but universities are bracing themselves for more informed callers this year. 

Katie says: “We are expecting a change of behaviour. With all of this time, students can be researching courses and universities, looking at what’s on offer and making a really focussed list of institutions that they will want to speak to.”

It’s been well publicised that many institutions are expecting a fall in applicants for 2021, with overseas students less likely – or simply unable – to travel during lockdown. 

Rumours of dramatically lowered entry requirements might be exaggerated, but there is definitely potential for some more flexibility.

“It’s a buyers’ market this year. There will be a bit more choice and students will know that,” adds Katie. 

“We talk to people individually, and we judge things on an individual basis. We won’t suddenly be dropping our tariffs to nothing as it doesn’t help the students involved, if after the first term they are going to be struggling.”

Clearing Plus

One thing that is new this year is Clearing Plus, a new matching service that links unplaced applicants to relevant courses. 

Information about previous subject choices, favoured universities and personal achievements are used to connect students with a personalised list of matched courses. 

Students are able to send an expression of interest to a university, and can then be contacted by that university. It basically provides students with a way to start building up a backup list of universities from early July onwards if they don't have a place confirmed.

Those students who already have a confirmed unconditional university offer, but who might have changed their mind, are also able to decline their place and ‘self release’ into Clearing to see their matches. It’s all done through your Ucas Track account.

Do your research

You don’t need to wait to start thinking about Clearing – there’s plenty that you can be doing right now. Katie says: “Use the time that you have available now to do some research so you are making more informed choices, and more informed calls on the day.”

Ucas has a list of all the courses available through Clearing, and a search tool to narrow down subjects and geographical areas. It’s regularly updated with new courses right through to mid-September, so be sure to keep checking.

From there, take a look at individual university websites, try the virtual open days and explore online tours of accommodation. 

The Student Room forums are a great place to ask questions and find answers. Many universities have student ambassadors who can tell you about courses or life on campus, and social media is a great place to get a sense of an institution, from students and lecturers.

Katie adds: “Start drawing down your list so on the day itself you’re calm and you have a plan.”

Take your time

When you have your results you will need to call your chosen universities and speak to a Clearing advisor about the course you are interested in. You will need your qualifications to hand. 

“Do not panic at all,” says Katie. “Clearing is a positive choice now, and something that many people actually opt into. 

“Contact two or three universities so you have a choice of offers that you can compare and don’t accept any of them immediately. Stay calm and take the time to choose the institution that is right for you.”

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