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A Student's Guide to Clearing

By Tom Patrick

Posted: 16th August 2013 15:48

University is the next big step for many teenagers, and it's always a daunting prospect. Whether you've applied to your local institution or Cambridge and Oxford, the worries and fears that you feel before you open your results are felt by everyone. But what happens if things don't go exactly the way you want? What if all your choices reject your application?

There still is a path to university, through the often misunderstood route of clearing. Clearing is when universities offer places on courses to people who haven't got the grades to go to their first choice university, or for students who realise their original course isn't right for them, and want to study something different. There are some important steps to take before diving in, however.

Keep Calm and Consider your Options

When you first open your results and see that you're that vital 10 UCAS points off getting the course you wanted, it can feel like the world is ending.  In fact, if you don't panic and take the time to have a look around, you can turn this in to an opportunity. The thing to do is find out if your course will still have you. Some universities will accept students who are one grade short. If that's not the case then consider the option of doing the same course at a different university, or a similar course at your first choice uni, if you really wanted to go to a specific institution.

UCAS will let you know if you are in clearing, which will happen if all your choices reject you, or you reject all of them. From here you can search for the courses that interest you, and when you've found some you like the look of, draw up a shortlist, and be prepared to not always get the one that you want straight away. Often clearing entails a lot of phone calls and questions, so be ready to answer why you are in the situation you find yourself in.

Most of all, it's important to keep a clear head. Don't rush in and accept a place at a university you've never heard of before just because they're offering a course to you. The next three (or more) years of your life are at stake so you don't want to be stuck somewhere you don't want to be.

Is the University or Course More Important?

There's a chance you might quickly find that a uni you want to go has your course and they will accept you, but this won't always happen. Be prepared to make some sacrifices. Decide which is more important, studying what you want, or where you want. You may still be able to go to your dream university, but doing a different course. Or if you are set on chemistry in London for example, check out the other chemistry courses offered by London universities.

 You might want to go to a uni with a good reputation that offers a history course, and that will mean you have to shop around a little. Don't settle for the first offer that comes your way! Remain confident and upbeat, realise that it might take some time and hard work to get an offer that suits you.

Ultimately, a first class degree in the subject you take is a first class degree, regardless of what university you go to.

Do your Research

If you've decided to go through clearing but you don't know where you want to go, make sure you research a variety of options. The last thing you want is having to go somewhere you don't want to go, studying a course you don't want to do. The hard work you put in looking for the best place for you will pay off in the long run. Comb through websites like UCAS looking for uni’s offering places on courses you're interested in. Look at places you may never have considered before. You may have to be flexible to get what you want.

 Go to a clearing open day at university. There you'll be able to speak to students, lecturers and course leaders who will answer any questions you still have. They will show you round the campus and you can get a feel for the place and decide whether it's right for you. Ask all the questions that you want to and find out as much as you can from these open days. Ideally you will want to go as many of these as possible. Remember, it's better to have ten to choose from than two!

Consider studying abroad

Studying abroad can seem like an even bigger headache than trying to negotiate clearing, but it can be a really rewarding and worthwhile experience. Obviously most foreign universities will not have the same method of awarding places to students who earn enough UCAS points, but grades are usually transferable. If you have your heart set on a country to study in then check their system for rating students. Remember, on the continent especially, your grades maybe worth more or less than they are over here. You may even find yourself garnering offers from better universities abroad than the ones who turned you down at home! Other things to consider are whether you will need a visa to study there, which would apply for most of North America.

If the people of a country you are looking at studying in speak a foreign language, then consider having lessons before you start, whether you've never spoken it before or just to brush up. Most universities offer programmes to foreign students which will help you to integrate into the new environment, but always expect some level of culture shock.

If you have a particular uni in mind, research their policy on accepting visiting students. Some are much more welcoming and experienced than others, so if you're not too certain about somewhere, look at their track record. Unis like to shout about their exchange programmes and success with foreign students, so check their website.

Round up

Clearing can be scary, but as long as you keep your wits about you, you can turn a potential crisis into a great opportunity. If you put the time researching and contacting you're university of choice, you can end up at the best place to be. You may even look upon that one bad exam as blessing in disguise.