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The NUS guide to clearing

Thursday 30 August 2018 Becoming a Student

Over 60,000 students found university places via clearing in 2018. Here are our tips on how to choose the right course of action.

You might not have made the grades you planned, but don't worry, there are plenty of exciting options. 

If you don’t meet your grade requirements, you’ll automatically be entered into clearing – a process whereby students without a university are matched with universities which haven’t filled their student quotas.

Some people even go into clearing if they meet their offer but decide against their original choice of subject (you can look for any course, even if you didn’t apply for it initially). Record numbers of students now secure places through clearing and the government’s removal of caps on student numbers look set to increase those figures even further. 75 per cent of Russell Group universities accepted students via clearing. 

Clearing might sound intimidating, but it’s a fairly simple process. All you need to do is log on to the UCAS web site, find a course that interests you, the grades required and contact the relevant institution’s clearing helpline. If they think they might have something to offer, they will usually put you through to a tutor.

Considering universities

It’s good to do your research before A-level results day, as you never know what might happen. Make a list of courses and universities you’d like to go to, so that it’s easier to check the full clearing lists once they’re available.

It’s good to consider whether you’re looking for the exact same course elsewhere, or if you’re set on a particular university, they might run a similar alternative to the course you originally applied for.

It’s better not to accept a place without having done sufficient research into the local area and the culture of a university. You should also look at how big the course is, the content and detail of the programme, league tables and extracurricular or social activities available.

Preparing to call

Make sure you phone the institutions you’re interested in. Some universities decide whether to accept you on the basis of your grades alone, while others will ask questions to learn more about your decision.

Make sure you’ve thought through your personal statement, reasons for applying to the institution or course, and that you’ve jotted down any useful notes or questions just in case.

It’s also worth phoning universities that aren’t on the Clearing vacancies list if you really want to go there. Universities know they can often fill spaces without needing to advertise and it could be worth taking a risk.

Some universities will take your details and give you a decision straight away; others will let you know very soon afterwards. Persist until you’ve had a response.  If no one answers the phone, keep trying throughout the day and write them a short, polite email.

If you’ve been made an offer, universities will usually give you 12-24 hours to decide, so take the time to reflect and do more research. Clearing continues until September, so while it’s best to act fast, there will still be opportunities available.

You can find out more about the Clearing process on the UCAS website.

Other options

If you decide, for whatever reason, not to go to university come September, you can always take a different route.


You might want to consider one of the many fantastic apprenticeships available to students (read one of our interviews with a current apprentice here).

You can look into doing a degree apprenticeship, in which time is spent between study and employment. Or why not consider applying for jobs, or perhaps even setting up your own business? For inspiration, read our interview with young entrepreneur Liam Burgess and the support he received from the Prince’s Trust.

Gap year

A year out can be a brilliant opportunity to gain work and life experience, whether that be at home or abroad. In particular, it’s a great way to enhance applications to either work, apprenticeships or university. Whether you take part in a scheme or try to secure your own work, like freelance journalism or sending speculative applications for work experience – there are plenty of ways to develop personally over the course of a year out of education.  You could travel abroad in order to learn a new language, volunteer locally, or look online for freelance work to fund your travels.  It’s important to be creative and put together a plan for the year.


You might have just missed the grades required for your chosen course, or be keen to increase your marks. If so, it’s possible to arrange resits for the following June with the help of your school or college.

Further Education

There are many advantages to further education in a college, particularly if you want to go down a vocational route. Catherine Sezen from the Association of Colleges explains more here.