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UCAS Clearing: How to win a university place on A-level results day 2019

Guide to university Clearing
The Clearing process has become a battleground for universities competing to attract the best students Credit: Alec Doherty

A-level results day is today. In the case your marks do not elicit a “yay, I got in!” moment, it’s worth having a plan B to find a university place through Clearing, via UCAS. 

The Clearing process matches applicants who do not currently hold a place with courses that still have vacancies. UCAS can also help students who have achieved better grades than expected, and this process is called Adjustment.

Competition for places will be fierce, as many students have planned for some time to go through Clearing, but it’s not impossible – with fewer 18-year-olds in the population and plentiful course availability, students are in demand by universities wanting to fill their courses.

The majority of 2018’s 66,770 acceptances placed through Clearing – more than 12 per cent of the 533,360 students who were accepted (a smidge down from 2017’s record of 66,865) – were from students who were unsuccessful in getting their firm or insurance place.

Not receiving the results you hoped for, does not mean giving up on university Credit: Alec Doherty

Clearing is worth considering for many reasons, notes Sunil Parshotam, service standards manager at the UCAS Customer Experience Centre. Students can use it if they didn’t receive any offers, or if they’ve had offers they have decided not to accept.

They can also use it if they change their minds and want to switch from a degree they’ve been accepted for (and can decline their place online through Track and enter Clearing) – increasingly handy for students who have unconditional offers. The growing trend for unconditional offers began in 2013 and reached over 38 per cent of all offers made to 18-year-old applicants yet to take their exams in 2019.

For the record, Clearing doesn't start on the morning of results day. In 2019, it opened on 5 July (the date IB scores were published) running until 22 October, although results day is when it really gathers steam. In 2018, almost 60% of Clearing places were confirmed within three working days of A-level results being released. Some choice places will have already been offered by lunchtime of results day.

Katherine Lloyd Clark, assistant director (student access, recruitment and admissions) at the University of Exeter, says the take-up rate depends on demand and how many places are available. “Let’s say we had five places on our liberal arts programme – a tiny number – my guess is those would go in the first two hours. Whereas something in maths could be open until Friday,” she says.

If your plan A first or insurance options haven’t panned out, you should have already thought through plan Bs, says Lloyd Clark. Universities have been posting advance Clearing information since May and June, and those in the know will have preregistered on their websites to receive email alerts about vacancies on results day.

“If the first message is: have a plan in advance, the second message is: act very quickly,” she adds. Students can use Track on the UCAS website from 8am to find out if they have been accepted to one of their chosen universities, even before getting their exam grades (which Track does not show).

Vacancy information is published in lots of places. “UCAS is the key source, although another very common source is thestudentroom.co.uk,” Lloyd Clark points out.

“UCAS owns the process. I like to think of us as the cool auntie,” says Hannah Morrish, student choice and higher education lead at The Student Room (TSR). Last year, 61,000 users of the online platform opted in to its Clearing service.

A friendly online presence at a stressful time, most young people will have already been using TSR for exam advice and sharing postmortems afterwards, as it is the UK’s largest online student community and is visited by three quarters of British students aged 14 to 24. TSR works with most UK universities – 78 have an official on-site representative to advise students.

Once you have established which universities have places, get on the phone. “Despite all the wonders of electronics, try to speak to someone,” advises Lloyd Clark. Results day is a three-line-whip scenario for all university staff involved in admissions – support or academic. She explains, “Everybody’s in, we very much want to help and are really aware of the pressure and stress for young people.”

Applicants must talk to universities themselves, partly due to data protection, but it also encourages a step up into adult life. “It is a rite of passage in a way,” says Lloyd Clark, who encourages students to reach out to their teachers for advice. “Most schools or colleges are open on results day, and teachers who know a student well will be able to give a good steer on what to do next. You can’t beat face-to-face interaction in a moment of stress.”

A common framework that works effectively is if a teacher calls the university, then hands the phone to the applicant for a brief chat, who then returns it to the teacher. “Sometimes the young person is in a bit of a panic and the teacher can take information in more objectively,” she explains.

Lloyd Clark warns against wrongly navigating phone calls. “Universities have different practices about whether they will make a verbal offer on the phone, or take your details and email you back, or whether you have to fill in a form."

"A great way to end these phone conversations is to say: ‘So this is what I’ve got to do next’, then recap and check. If a parent or young person is stressed, they may think they have been made an offer, whereas they have been told to go away and fill in a form in order to be considered.”

​Do you have any questions about your A-level results? Whether it's about remarks, retakes or a general 'what if'​, Hannah Morrish, education community manager at The Student Room is on hand to answer your questions.

Leave them in the comments section of this article from 10am on August 15, ​and the answer will be published within the article.