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A guide to Ucas Clearing: how to find your university place

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?

Once exam results have been published, most universities will still have lots of course places available.

The Ucas Clearing process helps uni applicants to find and apply for those places at universities across the UK.

Clearing also means universities get to fill up any vacant spots on their courses. After all, they don’t want to see empty seats in their lectures come September.

So, if you don't get the grades you need for the university course you're applying to, Clearing gives you the chance to grab a spot on another course. This could be at the same university or a different one. 

You can also apply for a university place directly through Clearing, even if you've not already made an application this year.

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

Why might you use Clearing?

There is a wide range of universities with places available in Clearing. Plenty of highly ranked universities have Clearing places: to give you an idea, here's a list of the 15 highest-ranking universities in Clearing this year

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. 

Get the lowdown on all things Clearing with our expert advice video.
 

Can you use Clearing?

The most common reason for using Clearing is if you didn’t get the results you needed for your university offers on results day. This is where you don’t achieve the grades that meet the entry requirements set out by your firm and insurance choice universities when they made an offer to you. 
There are other reasons, too:

  • 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 need, you might not need Clearing. If you narrowly missed the grades you were hoping for, check with your university to see whether they still will accept you. Sometimes they will, if say, their requirement was BBB but you got BBC. 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.

Remember, if you're unhappy with an A-level exam grade you've received, you can try to appeal it via your school or college. With teacher-assessed grades replacing exams this year, the appeals system is a little different. Find out more about how appeals will work

When is Clearing 2021?

This year, A-level results day is on 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 exam results are published. 

The deadline for adding Clearing choices is 19 October 2021.

In an ordinary year, Clearing starts earlier for students in Scotland. Results for Scottish Highers, usually come out a few days before A-level results. However, this year SQA results will also be the week of 9 August because of the exam cancellations, so Clearing effectively kicks off at the same time for everyone. 

Keep in mind that any spots available on popular courses at the highest-ranked universities will be filled quickly. Many courses will be filled during the days immediately after results day and some even more quickly than that. That’s not to say you won’t be able to find a course you’re happy with after this time but you'll have fewer 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,  you’ll want to be able to move quickly to snap up a spot on the courses you’re eyeing, so getting a head start will help. 

  • 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.
     
  • From 5 July, Ucas will list Clearing vacancies that can be found using its search tool so this is worth checking out when doing your research. Universities will be updating these regularly until mid-September.

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 brought 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 are 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 as you can beforehand will give you more time to research alternative courses properly so that on 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.

Where to go for help with Clearing

Helplines

There are a couple of key ones to note:

  • UCAS, 0371 468 0468 

At this time of year, Ucas goes into overdrive. Staff will not advise on course choices, but are great at sorting out queries on the technicalities of Clearing or if you're having any issues using Track.

  • Exam Results Helpline (ERH), 0800 100 900 

Each year the Department for Education collaborates with Ucas and the BBC to run a free telephone exam results helpline. It’s neutral, knowledgeable and non-judgmental. Lines open from 8am on results day.

If someone has already applied to Ucas and has a query about their application, they should contact the Ucas helpline. But if someone is reconsidering their options based on results they have, or have not, achieved, they should apply to ERH first. Andrea Robertson (Director of customer operations - Ucas),

Social media

Head to the Ucas Twitter page (@Ucas_Online) to find the latest official updates and read the rants, raves and success stories of other students in the same boat as you – all delivered in bite-sized chunks.
Similarly, you can post on the Ucas Facebook page or message privately. Ucas will have extra staff on hand manning both throughout Clearing, but be patient and read other comments to see if you can find an answer to your query.
Make sure your phone is charged, or you have a portable charger nearby, too. 

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

On results day: the Clearing process

As you could expect, Clearing can be fast-paced and a little hectic, especially on results day. 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).
     
  • You won’t be able to see what grades you’ve achieved on Ucas Track. You’ll just be able to see if you’ve got into your chosen university/universities or not. You’ll still 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 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
  • Just because you're in Clearing doesn't mean you've failed! Many people go into Clearing with high grades; many others choose to go straight into Clearing so they can talk directly to universities about their application.
     
  • 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.
     
  • You can also use Ucas’s Clearing Plus tool, which will provide you with courses matching your profile on Track. You can access this by logging into Track and clicking the ‘See matches’ button in the top right-hand corner of the page.
     
  • 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.
     
  • The universities will be very busy, so be prepared to wait. At first you might just get through to an adviser who will take a few details. If your grades and experiences match what they're looking for, you'll either get called back by an admissions tutor or you might have to call them back at an agreed time. 
  • 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.
     
  • This is also an opportunity to ask any questions that you have, for example you'll probably want to check what their accommodation policy is for Clearing applicants.
  • 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.
     
  • If you’re in Clearing after deciding not to accept your firm place university you’ll need to self-release using the ‘decline your place’ button in Track. Don’t do this until you’ve been offered an alternative place through Clearing. Don’t do this if you’re switching courses at the same university either, because it will also cancel any accommodation or scholarship arrangements you’ve made.
  • ​Remember to confirm your place on Ucas Track once you've been made an offer you're happy with!

How many universities can I apply to?

You can approach as many unis as you like and receive multiple verbal offers over the phone, but you can only add one Clearing choice on Track. 
 
That means you don't need to stop once you have your first offer. You can keep ringing other universities you're interested in and try to get offers from those too, then decide which to take up later.
Of course, many people will have their mind set on one university and won't need to look around elsewhere once they have their offer from them. 
 
Whatever you do, don't add a Clearing choice on Track before a university makes you an offer by phone or email. If you do they may well just reject you, and until they reject you, you can't apply anywhere else.


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

Do universities accept lower grades through Clearing?

Some will, but many won't. It depends on a lot of factors, including the subjects they are offering, how many places are still available, or whether there are minimum subject requirements for a specific course. 
 
Since places are so competitive it is usually correct to assume that you still need to meet the entry requirements given on the university website and prospectus. The only way you'll know for sure is by asking them. 
 
They may be willing to accept you with lower grades if you're enthusiastic about the course, or if you have relevant work experience, so make sure you really try to sell yourself when talking to the admissions tutor.

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

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 decent. 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.


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