University Clearing: advice from the people who make the decisions
Applying to university courses through Clearing can seem like a whirlwind of information and snap decisions – especially when you weren’t expecting to be going through the process.
To help calm your nerves and minimise surprises, we’ve spoken to Sally Feaver, programme leader at Oxford Brookes University, and Andy Phillips, admissions manager at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, to find out what you should expect from the process, what they’re looking for from applicants and their top tips on how to prepare.
The Clearing process for university: who you’ll speak to
You’ll need to have a UCAS track profile. If you already have one, your profile will tell you that you are now in Clearing – if not, it is probably just waiting for your grades to update. UCAS has a regularly updated list of vacancies and it is important to remember that some courses might seem full one day but will free up later so keep a close eye on this.
Some Clearing courses only require an initial phone call; others require another interview over the phone or even in person. Sally explains what will happen from the moment you ring the university for courses that don’t require an interview: ‘When you ring a university Clearing line, you will first speak to a trained Clearing individual. This person will check your qualifications and tariff points and tell you what courses you can be accepted onto. If you meet the requirements, an unconditional offer will be made there and then. You can then either complete the entry on UCAS or the operator will complete it online with you.’
If an interview is required, she explains that ‘the operator will check that you have the minimum entry requirements and pass your details on to the relevant department’s head of admissions. Some courses might also require you to come on campus afterwards. Health and social care courses and other professionally qualifying courses will always require an interview.’
You may be directed straight through to a department or you may have to wait for them to contact you. However, Andy urges you to remember that ‘the first person to pick up the phone could be the person who makes the decision on whether you get an offer or not so be professional with everyone from beginning to end.’
What universities are looking for from Clearing applicants
‘The university looks at four key areas: qualifications, personal statement, relevant experience and references’ says Andy. It is therefore very important to have all your qualifications at hand including A levels (or equivalent), BTECs and GCSEs. You should also have an idea of extracurricular activities and out-of-classroom experiences that you can relate to the course in question. For example, you might like to talk about your year ten work experience, a Saturday job or a relevant hobby.
Andy advises: ‘Make sure you know why you want to study the course you’re applying for. Also, make sure you have some basic knowledge of the university – you’d be surprised how many applicants go through the whole process without knowing where we’re based. We’re not looking for in-depth knowledge; just have an idea that we’re quite small, based in North Wales and offer the course you want. Of course, the admissions team knows that results day can lead you to apply to institutions you hadn’t initially considered; however, it is obvious to the people you speak to who has done some forward planning and who has not.’
Sally also stresses the importance of doing some prep before you call. She says: ‘We are mostly concerned with commitment. We reject Clearing students who do not sound like they understand the commitment that a course requires so we want to see that you have done your research and you know what is involved.’
How to prepare for Clearing phone calls
Researching the course
Andy and Sally both agree that, in order to sound clued up, it is essential to look at the university website for the course you’re applying to.
- whether there is a work placement involved
- which modules you will do in your first year
- whether there are opportunities to study abroad
- anything else you might be interested in.
This way, you can ask further questions during your interview to show that you’ve done your research and are committed to the course. Sally points out that this will also ensure that you don’t panic yourself into doing a course you won’t actually enjoy. She adds: ‘In fact, you should remember that there is always next year; sometimes taking a year to decide what you really want and maybe to get some money behind you is the best option.’
Researching the university
The TARGETcareers university profiles are a good place to start for quick facts about the university as a whole, plus of course the university’s own website. Make sure you find out:
- where the university and its campuses are
- whether it is a campus or city university
- how big the university is
- whether it offers your course.
When to do your research
Andy advises: ‘It is worth spending a bit of time before results day planning for a contingency.’ However, if missing your grades comes as a surprise on results day, make sure you at least do some quick online research to gather basic facts about a university before you phone it.
You will usually have 24 hours to decide whether or not to accept a Clearing offer (although this can vary). Sally suggests: ‘Clear the few days after results day to allow yourself to spend time on the phone, looking at websites, talking to friends and family and maybe even visiting campuses.’
Sally also advises keeping your parents informed about your options as they know you well and might have some useful opinions. If possible, ask them to keep an eye on their phone or even to be with you during the process.
Details you need to have to hand for your call
Both Sally and Andy also advise you to be equipped with the following when you ring:
- an idea of dates that you could come in for an interview
- details of your qualifications and extracurricular activities (see ‘What universities are looking for from Clearing applicants’).
What not to do when you speak to universities
Sally advises: ‘Don’t be negative about Clearing; universities pick up very able and committed students who simply haven’t yet found the right course for them. However, courses that interview are choosing people – not filling places – so don’t ask questions about holiday and days off as this does not show commitment.’
Andy warns: ‘Don’t let anyone else do the talking for you; asking a friend or family member to contact the university on your behalf doesn’t give a good first impression – unless of course there are legitimate health reasons that are explained right away.’
Andy also advises not to lie during the interview: ‘The institution reserves the right to retract your offer if your UCAS profile does not match up with the information you have given verbally.’
Keep an open mind about which Clearing courses interest you
Keep an open mind about what courses you’re interested in; if a university offers you a variation of a course (such as with a built-in foundation year), this might actually be more suited to you than the course you missed the grades for.
Remember, Clearing is open from July to September and you can use it the moment you have your grades, even if they’re from the previous academic year.