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Clearing and results day 2021: prepare your back-up plan

Need a Plan B just in case results day doesn't go your way? The good news is you don't have to start your course search all over again...

Even if you feel confident in the run-up to results day, it doesn't hurt to have a back-up plan just in case things go awry.

This could be a few similar courses at different universities to seek out in Clearing which you'd be happy to go to; or a completely different path if a satisfactory replacement course doesn't stand out.

As well as thinking about Clearing, it might be worth quickly finding out how to appeal A-level grades in case something doesn't go how you expect it to. Find out about the appeals system for 2021.

How to prepare for Clearing: check out our expert advice video.

Start with your original course choices

Before you trudge away to start your uni course search all over again, hold on! You’ve already got one shortlist to refer to if you don’t meet your offers – your original Ucas choices.

These are universities and courses you’ve previously researched and thought seriously about going to – and the fact that you’ve applied to them through Ucas already will prove your interest in them when you call them in Clearing.

There are no guarantees those universities will have relevant Clearing vacancies for you, of course. But thinking back to these can remind you what you were looking for in the first place and get you into that mindset once again. Have your priorities changed since then? What are you willing to compromise on that you were a bit stubborn about before? Perhaps the buzzing city nightlife or how close a uni is to home are no longer so high on that list...

Now that you've thought again what matters most to you, use our course search to find alternative courses.

Definitely plan things out. Be realistic with your expected grades, so when you get them, you can be proud of what you achieved! Make sure you have something fun planned for late August results day is harder if it's the be-all-and-end-all! Alice, Southampton

Shortlist alternative universities

While a handful of universities don’t take part, many universities offered places in Clearing last year, including some Russell Group universities. Look at the websites for universities you’re interested in – do they offer courses through Clearing?

Create a shortlist of universities you’d seriously consider going to, jot down their Clearing hotlines and make sure you’re following them on Twitter for up-to-the minute course vacancies come results day.

Pull together a Google Doc with their key contact numbers and URLs, to save you Googling or waiting for sites to load on the day (when they'll be getting a ton of visits).

And remember that you can shortlist courses on The Uni Guide too.

Wondering what to expect from the phone call? Take a look at this video for more helpful tips.

Consider different-but-similar courses 

While it's probably not advisable for a prospective history student to start applying for physics vacancies during Clearing time, don't automatically discount alternative courses. Think about what you really want to get out of your degree studies - there may be Clearing vacancies in a similar area that still allow you to achieve those ambitions, which suit your strengths or can help you get into a particular career field.
Don’t assume you know what a course is about based on the name alone – do your homework to show your commitment. And don’t think that gaining a place on an alternative course can be used as a way of transferring on to a more competitive course at the same university. Joanne Boyes | Careers Manager - Oldham Sixth Form College

If you’ve got your heart set on a particular subject area, would you be prepared to combine it with another as part of a joint degree? Or if you’ve got a particular career goal in mind, is there a similar course that can help you get there?
You may have a particular course in mind that you intend to study but check university websites. There may be very similar courses on offer you weren't aware of.  First Year Politics Student | Coventry University


While some courses are listed in Clearing from July, the majority of vacancies won't become available until A-level results are published. However, having a realistic idea of how flexible you're prepared to be before the hectic day arrives means you don't have to rush these important decisions on the day and you can make a choice that you won't regret. 

Learn more about a subject at degree level: browse our subject guides

Want to stand out in Clearing? Watch this video for tips from the experts.

The gap year option

If you don't think you're able to compromise on your course or university choices, taking a year out to retake your exams or build on your work experience may put you in a stronger position next time round.

Give this some serious thought beforehand, though. Would your original choices accept a second application? What would you do for an entire year? Make sure you map out exactly how you'd spend a gap year well ahead of results day.   

Feeling nervous? Here's some advice from uni admissions experts.

Got your back-up plan sorted? 

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