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Clearing 2021: How might your Clearing phone call go?

What questions can you expect when you call a university during Clearing – and how do you tackle them on the spot? Our mock Q&A covers some popular scenarios...

You've found a course you like the look of in Clearing – now you need to call the university up to apply. So what can you expect from this potentially life-changing phone call? 

You might simply be asked to confirm your A-level grades and possibly GCSE grades too – to be accepted there and then. Alternatively you may be passed on to a subject department tutor to answer a few more questions about your suitability for the course. Don't celebrate just yet...

We've covered the basics of a Clearing call elsewhere – including what to do before, during and after. But to help you prepare, below we've outlined some common scenarios students face in Clearing, the usual questions asked on a Clearing phone call with a university and some good (and bad) examples of responses.

Note, these are just rough examples, so don't copy the good ones word-for-word.

Preparing for your call? Check out this video from our sister site The Student Room.

Read our ultimate guide to Clearing

Clearing call #A: Why you want to study their course

You’ve come across an English literature course through Clearing that appeals to some of your interests from A-level.

Question: Why do you want to study this English literature course?

Good response: ‘Several of the modules really stand out to me, particularly the one on American literature, post-1914. I read The Great Gatsby as part of my A-level syllabus and performed strongest in this area. I think this was because I drew on similar authors who wrote about the same period, such as Nathanael West. I’ve since read many of Fitzgerald’s short stories and would love to explore the genre further. I’ve seen that several of your professors specialise in early 20th-century literature...’

Bad response: ‘I’ve always enjoyed reading, from an early age. I studied The Great Gatsby at A-level too.’

Tip: Show that you’ve actually read the course description for the course and researched the department or faculty at that university, too, including its academic specialisms and even academic tutors.

Relate your subject interests back to specific elements of the course to clearly demonstrate your engagement with it.

See what you’ll study on a particular course – search for it now

Clearing call #B: Explaining a low grade

You needed an A in maths but narrowly missed this, getting a B instead. You call a university regarding a similar maths course they offer. They’re interested to know why you didn’t get the grades you were predicted.

Question: Why do you think you missed the A in maths you were predicted at A-level?

Good response: ‘I’ve been looking through the breakdown of my marks to try to understand this more. I’m disappointed with my performance in one exam in particular, which has pulled my overall grade down. In the exam, I focused too long on the first section, which didn’t give me enough time to adequately cover the later questions. More pleasingly, I achieved A marks for the algebra and geometry elements...’

Bad response: ‘I don’t know. I haven’t really given it much thought.’

Tip: Examine your unit marks to see which areas have let you down and where you performed best. Reflect and be honest with yourself, and show that you’ve tried to understand where you came up short and how you intend to improve yourself.


Clearing call #C: Applying to a different subject/joint degree

You previously applied to study history only, but now you are calling a university regarding a joint history and politics course. The university asks about your interest in the politics portion.

Question: Why do you want to study a joint history and politics BA now?

Good response: ‘The history courses I originally applied for did all feature a focus on political history – I’m particularly interested in how political conditions shape and define history. Having looked at the options on the course, the module on post-revolutionary Mexico stood out as an area where we'd be exploring this theme from a range of perspectives....’

Bad response: ‘I voted for the first time in the recent election and got quite into it. I watched all the live debates.’

Tip: It’s perfectly acceptable to discover a new course or subject through Clearing that you’re legitimately interested in. Don’t feel like an admissions officer will be automatically sceptical about an interest in a subject which seems newfound. We wouldn’t recommend you change your options too wildly, though.

If you were planning to enter Clearing to find a different course before you received your results, tell them (including why). 


Clearing call #D: Demonstrating a deep interest in the subject

You enquire to a university through Clearing about a psychology course it offers. You meet the official entry requirements but you’re asked more about your interest in the subject outside your studies.

Question: Tell us about anything you’ve done outside the classroom that has cemented your interest in psychology.

Good response: ‘I have spent the last two summers as a telephone interviewer, where my ability to listen and ask the right questions has been praised. From what I know about the practice of psychology, this is an important skill to have, especially in the case of therapists and counsellors, which are two career paths I’m considering at this moment. I’ve also been developing my understanding of some of the scientific and ethical aspects of social psychological studies, recently attending a thought-provoking taster lecture about the Milgram Experiment...’ 

Bad response: ‘I like to watch psychology documentaries and went to a psychology taster lecture recently.’

Tip: Choose something interesting, relevant and unique to you to talk about. Don’t just explain what you did in a short, bland way. Explain how it’s helped you to develop your understanding and passion for your area of study.

Find out more: this video discusses what your clearing phonecall might be like.

Explore our full Clearing and results day advice hub, including our ultimate Clearing survival guide and how to prepare a back-up plan.


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