Clearing and alternatives – how to get into uni if you've missed out on a place

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Worried you’ve missed the grades you needed for university? Or haven’t had an offer you want to accept? Here’s what to do to keep your education and career plans on track.

One in ten students who started university in 2015 got their place through Clearing, according to UCAS. Many others are accepted onto the courses they want after taking a gap year and reapplying. So you can still get a place on a degree course whether you’ve got lower grades than expected, have only just decided to apply, didn’t get any offers first time round or rejected the offers you did get.

Alternatively, you could decide against becoming a full-time student and join an employer who will put you through a degree while you work – and pay your tuition fees.

Using Clearing – take action before you get your results

Clearing opens in July – 5 July in 2016. This is results day for students taking the International Baccalaureate. Courses with places are advertised via the UCAS website.

You can’t apply until you have your exam results. This is case both for students who don’t have any offers, and for those who do but are worried they have missed the grades. However, what you can do is to browse the courses that are available via Clearing and investigate any that interest you in more detail. This will help you to act quickly and know what you want when you do get your results. According to a spokeswoman for UCAS, nearly half of people using Clearing will be placed by the Monday after A level results day.

The courses that are available through Clearing change on a daily basis, even before results day. So it’s worth checking regularly to see if any new courses that interest you have been added.

If you spot one you like the look of, find out more about it on the relevant university website to see if it would suit you and check out how it is rated on a site such as Unistats. You can also find out more about the university via the TARGETcareers university profiles.

If it’s a serious contender, consider visiting the university and the town or city where it is located to see if you would feel at home there. It’s worth phoning the university beforehand – it’s very likely that it will be happy for you to visit and might even be able to arrange for someone to show you round. By visiting before you get your results you will be in a much better position to decide quickly whether you want to study there if you get an offer from that university via Clearing.

Using Clearing – what to do when you get your results

If you have an offer but have missed the grade, the university in question might still accept you. Speak to it first before doing anything else.

To use Clearing, you need to contact universities that have places on courses that interest you and for which you have the right grades. It’s best to do so by phone – and to make the call yourself rather than letting your mum or dad do it. Effectively the phone call will be an informal interview – the university will ask you questions and you can ask about the course and other considerations such as whether it would be able to offer you accommodation.

If you both like the sound of each other, the university will make you a verbal offer of a place. You’ll then need to select that course in UCAS Track, which will allow the university to see your UCAS application. As long as there is nothing badly amiss (for example, you lied about something on the phone) the university should then formally accept your application.

Picking a uni at speed? TARGETcareers can help

If you go through Clearing you’re likely to have to make choices at speed, especially if you don’t know that you’ll need to do so until results day. But quick decisions can still be good ones. Our advice and resources can help you along.

Should I take a year out and reapply to university?

If you know you have worse grades than you’re capable of, you could consider resitting or taking an additional A level/Higher/Advanced Higher in one year in a subject you know you’re good at. But be sure you can maintain your motivation levels.

If it’s not your grades that have caused the problem, you might want to take a gap year and reapply to university in the autumn. Try to work out why you didn’t get what you wanted first time round and rectify it. For example, perhaps you applied for courses that didn’t really interest you and admissions tutors detected your lack of motivation. Or maybe your application would be stronger if you had experience outside the classroom that related to the subject you want to study, such as helping out in a hospital or nursing home if you want to do a degree in medicine.

You can ask universities for feedback on your application, though they won’t be able to give this in all cases. You are most likely to get feedback if you have had an interview.

Alternatives to being a full-time student

One excellent alternative is to join an employer on a sponsored degree programme or degree apprenticeship. You can earn a salary, gain on-the-job experience, go to university part time and have your tuition fees paid for you. Other organisations run similar schemes that lead to HNDs, HNCs or professional qualifications such as chartered accountant status. You can’t get into all careers this way but there are opportunities in a number of areas, including business, finance, IT and engineering.

Alternatively, you could choose to get a job and study for a degree part time or via distance learning. If you find a role that relates to the subject you are studying, it could help you to put your academic work in context. It will also mean that you graduate with far more real-life experience than most students.

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