How to navigate Clearing and change university on results day

With one in five applicants unlikely to get into their preferred choice of university, Clearing – which matches students with unfilled university places – is set to be very competitive this year.

Instead of universities competing over students, the students are fighting over places.

This is set to be the ‘hardest admissions round in living memory for many applicants’, according to Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter.

Part of the problem is the dip in grades, following the first exams since Covid.

It means that even students with relatively high grades might be disappointed to find they have failed to secure a place at either their firm or insurance choice of university.

However, the biggest challenge for the Class of ’22 is the cost of living crisis. So, this year is likely to see a rise in students opting to enter Clearing by declining their offers, known as ‘self-release’.

A growing trend right now is for students to live at home to save on accommodation costs and Clearing is an opportunity to switch to a university within an easy commute.

With many students struggling to pay for accommodation, applicants can also use Clearing to move to a university town or city where rents are much cheaper.

Clearing is also increasingly attracting first-time university applicants – not just mature students and career changers, but also school and college leavers. With fears of a recession impacting job prospects, a degree is still a pathway to a better-paid career.

In addition, this year fewer people are likely to defer their studies and take a gap year, as those starting uni next year will have to repay their loans over 40 years instead of the current 30 years. Find out more at Ucas.

Put in Clearing?

Don’t panic, there are plenty of places available. However, you will need to act quickly to secure a slot on the most in-demand courses as they fill up fast.

  • Keep an open mind. Some courses may already be full so consider a different possibility, perhaps a related subject or a different university.
  • Do your research at ucas.com and shortlist the universities with Clearing places that you want to call first. Remember to compare courses by factors such as student satisfaction and graduate outcomes. Also search each course’s statistics at Discover Uni and check out rankings and ratings at The Complete University Guide.
  • Prepare to call the Clearing hotlines. Make sure you have your Ucas log-in and Track details to hand along with a list of your qualifications – including subjects, grades, dates and exam boards.
  • Print a copy of your personal statement to refer to when answering questions such as, ‘Why do you want to study this degree?’ Also make a note of any questions you want to ask.

Tip: Always ask if accommodation in Student halls is guaranteed for students applying through Clearing.

Note: Adjustment for those whose grades are better than expected is no longer available: if you want to upgrade your degree you will have to do this through Clearing.

Want to change courses or decided university isn’t for you?

Perhaps the economic downturn has led to a rethink about your choice of degree or university. Or maybe you’ve only just decided to go to uni. If you’re accepted into your chosen course, you will need to decline your place and wait to be entered into Clearing and be given a Clearing number.

Before doing so, check ucas.com to see what courses are available to make sure you can secure an alternative place.

First-time applicants will need to set up an Ucas account – and apply to Student Finance.

Not happy with your grades?

You can challenge your grades. Your school or college will need to make an appeal to the exam board so discuss this with your tutors.

Remember, grades can be revised down as well as up, so be sure to get some advice first.

Cast studies: University or apprenticeship?

‘I chose an apprenticeship instead of uni’

University isn’t the only option (Picture: Josh Mims)

Josh Mims, a project management apprentice at National Grid (right) was studying general engineering at college when he decided to apply for an advanced apprenticeship saying: ‘I was studying general engineering at college, but with the disruption of Covid I decided to apply for an apprenticeship after the third lockdown, and was able to get a place on an advanced apprenticeship with National Grid.

The combination of studying for a qualification, gaining work experience and earning a salary creates the feeling that this is the start of a long-term career.

‘I really enjoy the responsibility and freedom within the role – there’s a good level of trust in me, which is so encouraging for someone my age. It’s very much a case of achieving as much as you want to and there are opportunities to drive your own career progression.

‘Currently I’m working on a £1billion project to rewire south London via deep underground tunnels. Being able to learn and work on a site of this magnitude is really eye opening.’

National Grid research shows the UK energy industry needs to recruit 400,000 jobs to achieve net zero by 2050 and, with more than half of young adults wanting to work for companies that contribute to net zero, apprenticeships are a great way to help the planet. Applications open in December. Visit nationalgrid.com.

‘I chose uni instead of an apprenticeship’

Cyprian went through Clearing (Picture: Tristram Kenton)

Aerospace engineering student Cyprian Gut felt that joining the Royal Air Force (RAF) as an aircraft engineering apprentice straight from sixth form college was not the best career move, so he applied to Kingston University through Clearing.

‘I realised that, rather than spending years as an RAF apprentice, the best way for me to progress my career quickly was to get a degree in aerospace engineering,’ he explains.

‘By doing a degree I’ll be more qualified and possibly be able to join as an officer.’

Like an increasing number of students who arrive at university through Clearing, Cyprian waited until results day to apply – having missed the earlier UCAS deadline while making his mind up about his future, he had to wait for Clearing to open. But he says: ‘The process was smooth and made me confident I’d made the right decision.’

His advice for anyone else who is making a first-time application to university is: ‘Don’t be anxious about being unprepared and falling behind just because you came through Clearing. The first academic year allows everyone the opportunity to get to the same level. There is also plenty of support and guidance if you need it, both academic and pastoral.’

Not sure what to study?

Make the most of Ucas Clearing Plus. It’s only available if you’re unsuccessful with your application or are applying for the first time in Clearing.

Based on your original choices and your qualifications and grades, you’ll be matched with suitable courses. You’ll be able to ‘view your matches’ in your UCAS Hub.

Want an alternative to university?

If you are not convinced that all the student debt is worth it or want a more employment-focused or vocational pathway, consider an apprenticeship. Visit Not Going To Uni and Ucas to search for opportunities.

Remember, these may not start in September so, try to secure employment in the relevant field to prove to potential employers that you have a real passion for a particular career path.

A graduate apprenticeship is the best alternative to uni as it offers the chance to work and learn while gaining a degree debt-free.

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