A Level

Your guide to UCAS Clearing: time for Plan B

With results day looming, your teen might be starting to feel the pressure. Sleepless nights, anxious thoughts – it can be a tense time! But if all goes well, there’ll be celebrations and proud phone calls to family and friends. And if it doesn’t, you might have to think of a back-up plan and you might need to help your teen navigate UCAS Clearing to find an alternative university place. 

Here, we take you through the ins-and-outs of UCAS Clearing so you know what to do. And so that they know they’re not alone, our tutors have shared their own clearing stories.

What even is UCAS clearing?

Being in Clearing means your teen didn’t get a place at the unis they’d applied to, but they can be in the shortlist for a place at an alternative uni on an alternative course. 

Clearing is how universities fill open places on their courses. Your teen can check on the UCAS Hub to see what courses still have space. 

There are a few reasons why your teen might be in Clearing: 

  • They didn’t get the grades they’d hoped for.
  • They’ve changed their mind about the course they want to study.
  • They didn’t get the offer from the unis they wanted.
  • They want to give uni a go after a break away.

Understandably, your teen might feel down about having to pick a uni course through Clearing. But it might help them to know that they’re not alone. In fact, last year, 29,00 students got their final uni places through clearing. 

When does UCAS Clearing open?

Clearing is open from 5 July to 17 October 2023.

Our tutors’ UCAS Clearing stories…

Even though our tutors are all at top universities, for some, getting into their courses wasn’t plain sailing. Lots went through unusual routes to get there, but a few missed conditional offers, and got their final places through UCAS Clearing instead.

Here, they share their stories and tips on how to make the most of Plan B.

From Plan A to Plan B, and back again

On the day of her A Level results, Science tutor Natalia missed her offer to study Medicine at St Andrews University (by one mark!). She submitted one of her papers to be remarked, but in case it didn’t come back with a higher grade, she looked for Clearing places as a back-up plan.

“I went onto the UCAS site and looked at the available Biochemical, Biomedical courses. Then I rang up each university and asked about the places available. I went through a quick application process on the phone with the university staff. After each phone call I received an offer to my email address that had to be confirmed within a given deadline (some deadlines were 2 days, others up to 3 weeks).”

In the end, St Andrews made Natalia a new offer through Clearing, which she accepted once her paper had been re-marked. Going through the process was still important though, to make sure she wouldn’t be left without a place in a course.

Here are her top tips for anyone going through Clearing this year:

  • Call the universities you’ve found through UCAS Clearing Hub as early in the morning as possible. The sooner you call, the more places will be available.
  • Ask for an offer to be made even if you’re unsure about the course (usually you can transfer once you’ve started).
  • Keep calling universities for updates. Waiting lists change every hour (lots of people cancel their offers). Keep at it!

Try before you buy

On the day of his results, our Maths tutor Tommy found that he’d missed his (very high) offer to study Maths at Bristol. But it all worked out in the end. Here’s his story:

“After spending the evening of results day looking at Clearing and considering my options, I rang Leeds University the next day. I explained my situation and they offered me a place. I wanted to live in a city and go somewhere with a strong Maths course with the option to study abroad. Leeds ticked all these boxes so I accepted their offer.

But I’d never actually been to Leeds before, so I went for a visit and decided that I’d pull out if I didn’t like the uni. I went up to Leeds a few days later, met someone from the Maths department and had a look around the university and the city. I really liked the vibe, the department and the campus.

At Leeds, I met amazing people, enjoyed my degree and got to spend a year studying abroad in Canada. In the end, going through Clearing was one of the best things that’s happened to me.”

Tommy’s takeaways from his Clearing experience:

  • It can be really tough not getting into a university but you should be proud of your results regardless– you put in the time to revise. And you still have lots of options.
  • Make sure (if you can) to visit the campus before you start. It gives you a better picture than just looking it up online.
  • Clearing could be the best thing to ever happen to you (future you might think so)– it definitely was for me.

Closer to home

On his results day, Physics tutor David missed his A*A*A* offer from Manchester, which left him with his insurance offer at Bristol. Being from Newcastle, though, this meant he’d be moving to the other end of the country.

He told us, “Results day itself was awful. Most of my teachers wanted me to go to Bristol but this would’ve put me really far from my home in Newcastle.

So, I went on UCAS Clearing Hub and saw that Sheffield University had spaces to fill. The closer distance to my family, friends and girlfriend of Sheffield meant I rejected the offer from Bristol. I can now say that it was the right decision. The process of Clearing itself was really easy. It was all done online except for a quick conversation with Bristol (when I turned them down).”

David’s tips:

  • It’s good to ask for advice from others, but ultimately you know what’s best for you.
  • Your A Level results don’t need to define you – once you start uni that becomes the new focus anyway.

If Clearing options aren’t a good fit

Even though Plan B works out most of the time, it might not be the right path for your teen. If the uni courses on Clearing are not a good match, it doesn’t mean they have to forget about learning. There are still lots of options and different ways for them to be successful.

Here are some things they can do:

  • Resit their exams and apply next year with their final results. They can go through next year’s UCAS process. In the meantime, they can visit new universities.
  • See the world. Missing a uni offer can be a great opportunity for them to reconsider what they really want to do. If they take a gap year, they’ll have the chance to explore other options and even try some internships to help them choose the best path. Almost no-one who takes a year out regrets it!
  • If they don’t go straight to university, they’ll get more time to read into their subjects and maybe find a new subject they hadn’t thought of applying for before. There are loads more university subjects available than at A Level, and more time to choose is only a good thing.
  • Uni isn’t the only way for them to earn a degree. An apprenticeship is another way to go about it. As an apprentice, they can study and get hands-on work experience without building a mountain of student debt. They can read all about this exciting option in our MyTutor Guide to Apprenticeships ebook.

Results day is a nail-biting experience! And if your teen ends up in Clearing it can throw up all sorts of questions. But it’s definitely not the end of the world– in fact it could be the best thing to happen to them, like it was for our tutor Tommy. If you’d like your teen to get some university advice from someone who knows the ins-and-outs of Clearing, you can book a lesson with one of our expert tutors now.

And for more on UCAS timelines and applications, you can also download our 2022 MyTutor Guide to University ebook.

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