University clearing: What you need to know

A Level results are out and they are higher than ever before. Record numbers of students have achieved top grades and secured places at their first-choice university. However, not everyone got the marks they needed this week. If you are one of them, don’t panic: clearing is still an exciting option. 

What is clearing?

Clearing is simply the process of universities filling vacant spaces on their courses. The system matches university applicants who have missed their offers – or didn’t receive any they liked the look of – with institutions that still have unfilled places. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) more than 70,000 students were accepted through clearing last year.

If you are feeling downhearted, it is important to remember that there is a wide range of universities which accept students through clearing – including some very high ranking institutions.

How do I find alternative courses?

The first thing to do is to speak to an adviser at your school who can talk you through alternative universities and courses. Once you have a plan, login to UCAS and use their clearing webpage and online search tool. It is simple to use and provides the only official, up-to-date vacancy list. It is important to keep checking into UCAS: universities update their course information regularly some vacancies might pop up later.

Some universities also have their own clearing webpages which are worth looking at for inspiration.

How do I apply through clearing?

Before you officially submit your clearing choice in UCAS’s ‘Track’ system, you need to call the university and give them some personal details so they can look up your application. It is important to check whether they would accept you, and to secure informal offers over the phone from a variety of universities. 

Once you have secured permission from your chosen university or college, you can submit your clearing choice on UCAS. This counts as you firmly accepting the offer, so if they confirm, it will show as an acceptance on your ‘Choices’ page in UCAS Track. You can approach as many universities  as you like and receive multiple verbal offers over the phone, but you can only add one clearing choice on Track.

Are things different this year?

As a result of the pandemic, a record number of students received top grades in their A Levels this year. This has led to concerns that there will be fewer spaces available in clearing for the most popular courses. However, the process is the same as ever and reports suggest that leading universities have accepted more students compared with previous years.

Any tips on the process?

Take a breath and don’t panic. Your choice of university will affect the next three years of your life, so be sure you are making the right decision. While things may feel like a whirlwind, do your research, speak to your teachers and be sure you are happy with your choice.

On a practical level, make sure you have all the important information and documents which you need close to hand before you start calling up universities. For example, you’re likely to need your UCAS number and your clearing number, together with your A-level and GCSE grades.

How long do I have to choose?

You can apply for a course using clearing until 19 October.

What if I can’t find a course that I like?

Clearing is not the only option. If you’re unhappy with an A-level exam grade you’ve received, you can try to appeal it via your school or college (for more information on this, please read our latest results blog). Resits are also likely to be available.