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Clearing 2021: five ways to get a head start

Already dreading the chaos of results day and – maybe – the rush to find a Clearing course? Here are a few ways to stay one step ahead...

Are you expecting to run around like a headless chicken come results day? If an assessment hasn't gone in your favour, this may already be a fate you're contemplating.

Seeing as you'll be on your summer holidays anyway, it makes sense to put this free time to good use, cover your bases and do a little preparation just in case you do have to go down the Clearing route. It could save you valuable time come results day when everyone else is doing the same thing!

Be as prepared as you can be and then be more prepared. The day will hopefully go your way, but if it doesn't, you don't want to be stuck in the position of trying to come up with a battle plan in your sleep-deprived, stressed state. If your sixth-form/college opens before Ucas Track updates, DEFINITELY go in early. If you don't get the grades [you need], then you have time to come to terms with it and it also means you can start calling clearing as soon as [Clearing is] open.
Febi, Derby | Student

Below are five things to get on with before results day. If you split them out slowly over the holidays, it won't seem so bad to do.

1. Start looking now at possible Clearing courses

Why wait until results day to see what other courses are out there for you? Making a decision about a new course in Clearing doesn't leave you much time to mull things over. Our guide can help you make a quick-but-quality decision.

While Clearing actually opens before A-level results day, the majority of course vacancies are only added after this. You can still research and shortlist possible courses or universities beforehand to look out for on the day itself.

You don't have to begin your search for a course all over again either (phew!). Our guide on preparing your back-up plan for Clearing has some tips for finding alternatives, including going back to your original five Ucas choices.

My offer was A*AA, so I made an ordered list of which unis I would call if I got AAA and then for AAB and ABB and so on. Honestly [I] went overboard but it really helped me be prepared for LITERALLY anything results day could throw at me and also gave me something to do the day before so that I wasn't just sat there waiting for the next day.
Umar, London | Parent

You can use our course search to narrow down the options quickly by predicted grades and browse the key stats, to save some time.

Applying to uni through Clearing? Check out this video from our sister site The Student Room to help you prepare.

2. Consider a different path altogether

Of course, if you had your heart set on a particular course and university, you might now be thinking about a different route entirely…

Gap year

A year out could give you time to build up life and work experience and rethink your options. So while that could be (budget allowing) travelling the world and ‘finding yourself’ overseas, it could equally be volunteering or working closer to home. Either way, do make that year count – in particular, think about what might enhance a future uni application.

Our guide to gap years can help you make the most of yours, plus give some insight into how universities view them.

We also have a bunch of budget travel tips to see the world without necessarily breaking the bank.

Resit your exams

If you narrowly missed the grades you needed, resits could be an option. You’ll need to arrange to do this the following June (ask your school or college), meaning you’ll also need to start planning for your year ahead while you prepare. 

You can also appeal your grade if you firmly believe that the grade you received was incorrect.

Study abroad

Growing numbers of UK students are looking further afield for higher education options because of lower fees, the increase in English-speaking courses, and the chance to travel while gaining a qualification at the same time. 

A different qualification path

Apprenticeships, traineeships and school leavers’ programmes are all legitimate alternatives to university level study, providing real, applicable workplace skills and experience while you study (and earn!). This might better suit the way you learn, or be more appropriate if you already have a particular career path in mind.

3. Dig out your personal statement

It will have been a few months since you last cast your eyes over your personal statement – at the time you were probably happy to never look at it again, having spent weeks writing and rewriting it....
Now is an excellent opportunity to revisit your statement and reflect on the strengths, skills and experiences you highlighted at the time, so you can communicate this succinctly and effectively when you speak to them. Casting your eye over your statement again should also help you remember what your priorities were then and establish what they are now - perhaps you'll consider different factors when looking for new courses in Clearing? 
Keep a paper copy close by to help you prepare ahead of calling universities during Clearing. Highlight the most important parts and be prepared to expand on these when asked about them.


4. Start your Clearing mini-interview prep

When you call a university during Clearing, they may simply wish to confirm your grades before making a decision to accept you or not. However some universities will ask questions to learn more about you before making a decision. It’s well worth planning some answers – or talking points – which you can cover in your responses so you wow that admissions tutor.
Start thinking about the kind of questions you might be asked – the questions you were asked in any admissions interviews you attended would be a good place to start. Jot these down with some outline answers and you’ll be less likely to lose your train of thought when put on the spot. Practise aloud what you would say, so you feel confident in your response.

Our guide to Clearing call questions compares good and bad answers to the kind of questions often asked in these.

What might the call be like? Find out more in this video.

5. Some final dos and don’ts

  • DON’T book any holidays, breaks or trips which coincide with results period.
  • DO discuss your plans with your parents and seek the advice of others…
  • …but DON’T rely on Mum or Dad to phone universities on your behalf – it won’t go down well with admissions tutors! 
  • DO go into school or college on the morning of results day to collect your exact marks and Ucas points (it’s likely the university will ask for them) and seek the advice of teachers and advisers.
  • DO be prepared on the day. You’ll need a notepad, several (working!) pens to make notes as you call universities, plus your phone charger on hand.

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