Your guide to UCAS Clearing: Time for Plan B

With results day looming, you and your teen will be very aware of the pressure creeping up. Sleepless nights, anxiety, putting off long-term plans – and that’s just you! If all goes well, there’ll be celebrations and proud phone calls to extended relatives. But if it doesn’t go as hoped though, you might have to think of a back-up plan…

Whatever happens, your teen should know that the rest of their life doesn’t depend completely on their exam results. Straight As are a great achievement, but if that’s not how it pans out then it’s totally not the end of the world.

Although our tutors are all at top universities, it wasn’t plain sailing for everyone. Lots went through unusual routes to get there. Some even missed conditional offers, and got their final places through UCAS Clearing instead. Clearing is where kids who don’t meet their offers can phone up other universities (that others have turned down or missed themselves) to get a place on one of their courses instead. It kicks off on A Level results day, and continues until all the universities fill up their places. It’s no side show either, as last year a record 60,100 students got their final uni places this way.

It can all seem quite intimidating though, especially with a name as elusive as “Clearing”. We’ve asked a few of our tutors to tell us about their experiences, and share their advice for kids going through the same thing this year.

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

In the end, St Andrews made Natalia a new offer through Clearing, which she was able to accept once her paper had been remarked. Going through the process was still important though, to ensure she wouldn’t be left without a place. Here are her top tips for anyone experiencing the same this year:

  • Call the universities 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 the universities for updates. Waiting lists change every hour (lots of people cancel their offers). Be persistent!

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. It all worked out in the end though…

“After spending the evening 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 was very keen to go straight to university. I wanted to live in a city and go to somewhere with a strong Maths course and study abroad options. Leeds ticked all these boxes!

Having never visited Leeds before, though, I decided to accept the offer but that I’d pull out if I didn’t like it once I’d visited. 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. Going through clearing was one of the best things that’s happened in my life so far.”

Tommy’s tips:

  • It can be really tough not getting into a university, but you should be proud of your results regardless. You still have lots of options available to you!
  • Don’t rush to make a decision – it feels scary, but it’s important to carefully choose the right place before accepting an offer.
  • Make sure (if you can) to visit the campus before you start.

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 and remains one of the worst days of my life. Most of my teachers wanted me to go to Bristol but this would’ve left me really far from my home in Newcastle.

So, I loaded up UCAS Clearing and noticed that Sheffield University had spaces to fill. The closer proximity to my family, friends and girlfriend led me to reject the offer from Bristol and choose Sheffield instead (a decision my teachers weren’t too pleased about). I can now safely say that it was the right decision and if I hadn’t made it, I’d likely have dropped out of Bristol or at least have been very unhappy. The process itself was extremely easy. It was all done online with the exception of a quick (albeit slightly awkward) conversation with Bristol.”

David’s tips:

  • It’s good to seek advice, but ultimately the student knows what’s best for them.
  • Your A Level results don’t need to define you – once you start uni that’s the whole focus anyway.

Change of plans

While kids should take advantage of the educational opportunities they get, it’s fine if they don’t get the best results ever. There are many other different types of success, and if they can leave school with a passion, or find one afterwards, then that’s the most important thing.

If they don’t find a place that they want to accept through Clearing, here are some other options:

  • Reapply next year With their final results, they can go through next year’s UCAS process. Then they’ll get the chance to visit new universities and be in with a better chance of a place at their top choice.
  • 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!
  • Do a 180 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.
  • The student becomes the apprentice School exams aren’t only to set kids up for university. Going straight into the workplace with an apprenticeship or another training scheme might be where their true passions lie.

Good luck to all those getting their results this week! If you’d like your teen to have a chat about university advice with one of our tutors, you can book a lesson with one.

For everything else you need to know about applying for university through UCAS, download The MyTutor Guide to UCAS 2019/20.

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