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Clearing 2021: Your survival guide

Everything you need to find a course through Ucas Clearing, including what to do on the day, how to call universities and more.

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What is Clearing?

If you don't get the grades you need for the university course you're applying to, Clearing is an opportunity to grab a spot on a similar course. This could be at the same university or a different one. 

Clearing allows universities to fill up any vacant spots on their courses – after all, they don’t want to see empty seats in their lectures come September. 

Clearing explained: Courteney Sheppard from UCAS explains more in this video from our sister site The Student Room.

Why should you consider Clearing?

More than 70,000 students were accepted through Clearing last year (source: Ucas, 2020).

A little over 52,000 of those were students who originally applied through the traditional Ucas route, while the rest waited until Clearing began to apply to a university.

Overall, 13.6% of all accepted students in 2020 got their place through Clearing.

Clearing is not about trying to snatch a place on a course at all costs, though – it’s about choosing where you‘ll spend the next few years of your life. Research your choices as thoroughly as possible before picking up the phone to call a university. 

What's Clearing like? Uni student Ashleigh shares her experience in this video.

Can you enter Clearing?

You can enter Clearing if you don’t get the results you needed on results day. This is where you don’t achieve the A-level (or BTEC, Scottish Highers or International Baccalaureate) grades that satisfy the entry requirements set out by your firm and insurance choice universities when they made an offer to you. This is the most common reason why students go through Clearing, but there are other reasons:

  • you change your mind about your firm and insurance choices, and wish to apply to a different course or university

  • you applied before 30 June but don’t have any offers

  • you only applied after 30 June – you’ll be automatically entered into Clearing once you apply.

Even if you don't get the grades you needed, you might not need to enter Clearing yet. If you narrowly missed the grades you were hoping for, check with your university whether they still will accept you. Sometimes they will, if say, their requirement was AAA but you got AAB. This is why it’s important to get on the Ucas website as soon as possible on results day to check the status of your offer – there’s a chance you’ll find a nice surprise!

If neither your first or insurance choice has accepted you, then you can enter Clearing.

If you're unhappy with an A-level exam grade you've received, you can try to appeal it via your school or college.

When is Clearing 2021?

This year, A-level results day is on the 10 August 2021. So this is when Clearing 2021 will begin for the majority of students.

Technically speaking, Clearing begins in July each year. But it only really gets into full swing on results day once A-level results are revealed. 

The deadline for adding Clearing choices is 19 October 2021.

Results for Scottish Highers, BTECs and the IB usually come out a few weeks ahead of this, but this year Scottish Higher and Btec results will also be the week of 9 August. If there's not much to choose from at this point, play the waiting game until A-level results day when more places will become available. 

Keep in mind that any spots available on popular courses at the highest-ranked universities will likely be filled by the end of the first week of Clearing following results day (perhaps even before then!). That’s not to say you won’t be able to find a satisfactory course after this time but you'll have less options to consider – so don’t wait around!


Before results day: how to prepare for Clearing

Check out our full guide to getting ready for results day and Clearing  if you do need to enter Clearing, things can get a bit hectic (and there's not a moment to waste).

  • If you don't feel confident that you'll get the grades you need, it can't hurt to start preparing a back-up plan just in case. See which other universities offer the same – or similar – courses, search for similar courses that have slightly lower grade requirements than you've been predicted, or try those which didn't quite make your top five Ucas choices earlier in the year.

    Be prepared. Have a back-up plan if things don't go as well as you hope. 
    Sadiah, Birmingham | Student

    I noted down which universities would accept me for Clearing if both my firm and insurance rejected me. I wrote down their numbers and the conditions and bought it with me to results day.
    Tyra Faith, London | Student
  • ​Make sure you’ve got all important info and documents which you will need to make calls (e.g. Ucas number, Clearing number, A-level/GCSE grades), close by and laid out clearly. Plus, more than one working pen! There's quite a few things you'll be told on the spot, which you'll need to make a note of for later.
  • Practise what you’ll say in a mini-interview should you have one over the phone. Our guide to answering questions on a Clearing call can give you an idea of what to say to make the right impression, quickly. Write down some questions you'll probably be asked think back to any admissions interviews you attended and what you were asked then along with some brief points to cover for each one. It's also worth revisiting your personal statement, as universities you apply to in Clearing will have access to this and might ask about what you've written here.

​Doing as much of this beforehand will give you more time to research alternative courses properly so that, come results day, you can focus your attention on those you'd truly be happy going to.  
Get prepared: check out this video from our sister site The Student Room.

On results day: the Clearing process

As you could expect, Clearing is very fast-paced and hectic, especially on results day when every second counts. Here's a preview of what to expect on the day and what to do:
  • ​On results day, check the Ucas Track site as early as possible in the morning to see the status of your applications. If you’re eligible for Clearing, it will say so and you’ll be provided with a Clearing number (which you'll have to give to universities you call).

    Note, you won’t be able to see what grades you’ve achieved on Ucas Track only – if you’ve gotten into your chosen university/universities or not. You’ll need to pick up your results to find out your actual grades. 
  • If you're not sure about the status of your uni place, contact the university directly to get a confirmation from them. They'll have extra staff on hand taking calls on the day but be patient if you don't get through straight away.

    Remain calm and have faith things will work out. There is always another way to get to where you want to be in life.
    Zuzana | Student

  • If you're eligible for Clearing, you can start phoning universities through their special Clearing phone lines to speak to one of their advisers – or someone from that course’s department – about the course you’re interested in.
  • Ucas will be displaying live updates of all courses available through Clearing. When you see a course you’re interested in, search for them here on The Uni Guide to dig a little deeper into the modules you'll study, what graduates have gone on to do and what current students have to say – after all, they should know!
  • Some universities may just ask for your grades and make a decision based on these; others may ask a few questions about why you’re interested in that particular course, a bit like a mini-interview. Read our full guide to calling universities in Clearing, including what to do before, during and afterwards.
  • They’ll tell you whether they will accept you there and then, after which you’ll usually have 24 hours to accept or look elsewhere. Our advice on making this quick decision the right way is worth reading at this point.
  • ​Remember to confirm your place on Ucas Track once you've been made an offer you're happy with!

Don't compare yourself [to others], and be open to the idea of adapting and the options through Clearing. Megan, Manchester

Megan's story: How I survived Clearing

How to apply: check out this video for more tips.

You've got your place, what next?

Once you’ve found a place through Clearing, the next challenge is sorting your university accommodation. At this point, you might not be able to get that ensuite bathroom you had your heart set on, but you should find something satisfactory. While universities do their best to house all first year students in campus halls, rest assured that there are procedures for those who don't get a place in campus halls. Check out our guides on private halls and rentals to help you make a choice you'll be happy with.

Also, you should update your student finance body with where you'll be studying now (eg if you're now going to be studying in London, you may be entitled to slightly more in maintenance loans), and start learning about your new home.

You'll have some admin tasks to sort out too, such as packing and getting your financial house in order.

What if I get better grades than predicted?

You can go through Adjustment if your grades are actually better than expected. This is basically the opposite of Clearing, where you can "trade up" for a course with higher entry requirements than what your predicted grades were.

If this doesn't interest you, you also have the option to defer and begin your course the following year; or take a gap year and apply again next year.

Where could your A-levels take you?

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