The Which? University guide to Clearing

Which? offers a handy guide for your students if they don’t get the university place of their choice this week

For many students, A level results day will be a time for celebration. But for those who don’t get their expected grades it can be a confusing time – as they face uncertainty around whether they have been accepted into the university of their choice, and if not, what their next steps should be.

“It’s important to reassure students and remind them that, whatever happens, there is lots that they can do and there are always options available,” says Alex Neill from Which? University.  

“It’s not a bad lesson to learn that at some points in life things don’t always end up panning out exactly as planned. What is important is the way they deal with the situation and how they move forward.”  

As a teacher or professional in an academic role, you are one of the most trusted sources of information to your students. Whether this is your first A level results day – or your twentieth – it is worth re-familiarising yourself with the possible outcomes and advice to provide to students who don’t get the results they were expecting:

  • If they just missed their predicted grades: this will be disappointing, but they may still get an offer from their firm choice: they will need to check UCAS and see if their status has changed to ‘unconditional’ or if they’ve been offered a place on a different course. If they have just missed out on their grades by a few marks or intend to appeal any grades, they may still be able to ask their firm choice to reconsider.
  • If they met their insurance offer: once their place is confirmed, they’ll be able to apply for student accommodation.
  • If their grades were much lower than predicted: before they panic, they should check UCAS – as they may still have an offer. If the university hasn’t made a decision yet, they can phone them to discuss their situation. 

Last year, 61,300 students found a university place through Clearing, almost 10% of all university admissions that year. With the student number controls lifted, more universities are actively seeking to attract students through their doors – making the Clearing window an increasingly important time in their recruitment cycle. Students entering the Clearing process should therefore feel confident about the process and their chances of finding a suitable alternative course.

The journey through Clearing

Starting the process: a student will be eligible to enter clearing if their UCAS status says ‘You are in Clearing’ or ‘Clearing has started’. They can then go to the UCAS website for details of the latest university course vacancies they can call to secure a place. 

Researching courses and universities: during the Clearing process it’s important that students act quickly, but they shouldn’t rush to accept the first course they find. It’s important they research vacancies thoroughly and draw up a shortlist of universities they want to call. Which? University’s course finder can help with this research process. Encourage them not to stray too far from the subject area they applied for originally, but it’s also worth discussing options such as joint honours courses, for instance.                       

Preparation for the call: before making the call, it’s important for the student to gather the relevant information. This includes their UCAS clearing number, details of the course code they’re enquiring about (including course code) and a copy of their personal statement. They’ll need to think about the key points they want to make and why they didn’t achieve their desired grades, so they will need to think honestly about what factors played a part. 

Making the call: this may simply involve confirmation of their grades and that there’s a place available with their name on it. On the other hand, they may find themselves on the receiving end of some tricky questions designed to test their suitability for the course.

Confirming their place: it’s vital that they think over the pros and cons of the offer(s) they have been made. They can verbally accept more than one offer, so before making that final decision, it’s good if they can go along to the university and look around. Once they’re happy with their choice, they go to back to UCAS, click ‘add Clearing choice’ and enter the course code and details requested. Once the university confirms their place, they will receive a confirmation letter and their Ucas status will change. 

Before a successful student heads off to celebrate, make sure you remind them of those all-important final steps – changing their university details on their student finance application and organising student accommodation. 

The two-page Which? University Guide to Clearing is free for you to download and hand out to your students on results day.    


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