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Clearing 2021: how to call universities

Calling universities is a crucial part of the Clearing process. But before you pick up the phone, here are some top tips from admissions tutors, careers advisers and students…

What is Ucas Clearing? Read our full guide to Clearing including how the process works and what you can do to stay a step ahead of everyone else. 

Your Clearing call could be an interview

When you call a university, the conversation might just involve confirming your grades and checking that there's still a spot available on the course you're interested in. On the other hand, you may find yourself on the receiving end of some tricky questions designed to test out your suitability for the course.

An engineering student at Aston University found the Clearing process very straightforward: ‘Called them, told them about my qualifications and got a place in less than 15 minutes.’ 

But for a tourism student from London South Bank University, bagging his Clearing place was a bit more involved: ‘I had a 30-minute telephone call which included filling out the application form and an informal interview.’ 

If you want to prepare for the sorts of questions you might get asked, we’ve outlined some of the common ones you might get, and how to answer them later in the article.

What might the call be like? Find out what to expect from the Clearing call in our video.

How universities view Clearing phone calls

We’re looking to make sure that an applicant in Clearing has made a considered choice to choose our university and the opportunities and the student experience that we offer here. David Giles | Head Of Admissions - University Of East Anglia

The most important thing I would ever ask a student is ‘why do you want to study my subject, and why do you want to do it at my university?' Regardless of whether they’re coming through Clearing or the regular cycle, it’s really the students who can best answer this that will stand out the most. Matthew Leeke | Admissions Tutor - University Of Warwick


Want to stand out in Clearing? Here are some tips from admissions experts.

Preparing for your Clearing call 

Do your research

Our course and university profiles can help with this. You don't necessarily need to know a course's male-to-female ratio off by heart, but you should know what modules it offers and perhaps what some of their graduates have gone on to do, for instance. When asked why you want to study that course, this sort of information can feed perfectly into your answer. All of this will show that you've done your homework about them and are serious about applying (as opposed to simply trying to grab whatever you can).

Plus, it's as much about whether they are a good fit for you as you are for them. Read the student comments on their profile to see what current students feel you should know and what their experience has been like.

Learn more about a course including full entry requirements, what you’ll study and student satisfaction scores – search for a course now.
 

Make notes

For each university you’re planning to phone, have a list of notes or bullet points to hand about why a certain course or university appeals to you. Plus, think of a couple of questions to ask them to really demonstrate that you're keen. Our list of open day questions might be worth taking a look at.

Having some pointers to glance at can help steer what you say (especially if you're nervous), cover the important bits and make a positive impression straight away.

Practise your answers

To help you prepare for questions you might be asked, think back to what you were asked at any admissions interviews you attended. 

Practise saying these out loud so they sound natural rather than too rehearsed. Noting down some brief bullet points for each can help make your answers sound more spontaneous and ‘off-the-cuff’. 

Want to get prepared for your call? Check out our video on how to get ready for Clearing before results day.

What questions can you expect when you call a university during Clearing?

To help you prepare, 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.

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.

Clearing call #B: Explaining a low grade

Note - this scenario relates to a normal exam year but you might be able to adapt it to the short assessments and work used as evidence for your teacher-assessed grades.

You needed an A in maths but just 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 pulled my overall grade down. In the exam, I focused on the first section for too long, which didn’t give me enough time to cover the later questions properly. I’m happy that 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 include 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 fine 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 new to you. 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 contact 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 developed your interest in psychology.

Good response: ‘I spent the last two summers working 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 for therapists and counsellors, which are two career paths I’m considering. I’ve also been developing my understanding of some of the scientific and ethical aspects of social psychological studies, and I recently went to an inspiring 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 chosen subject.

What questions should you be asking when you call a university through Clearing?


Think about what the university can offer you and what you're a bit puzzled about. We had a chat with the admissions team at the University of Bolton, who suggested a few questions you might consider:
  • What courses can the university offer you?
  • Do you have any scholarships or bursaries that Clearing students are eligible for?
  • Does your university have any open days or visiting opportunities available for students (either virtual or in real life)? Would you be able to look around?
  • Are there any spaces left in halls? – If so, how do I apply/visit/reserve a place? If not, can they help you find accommodation?
  • Will any adjustments need to be made to suit your stay at the uni? If you have a disability how will that be accommodated?
​​​​​​​Feeling nervous about the call? Our advice video might help.

Your Clearing call checklist

Being prepared is key when it comes to making the call. Here are some essential tips:

Before the call

  • Have your Ucas ID, Clearing number and grades close to hand.
  • You can find your Clearing number in Ucas Track.
  • Have a few (working) pens and paper next to you, to write down names, phone numbers and times to call back.
  • Keep your notes with what you want to say and your list of numbers nearby.
  • Re-read and print out your personal statement, so you can refer to that too.
  • Head to a quiet room where you won't be disturbed.
  • If you want someone else to call for you then you must be sitting with them to give permission before handing the phone over. Unless you give permission, universities can’t discuss your application with anyone other than you.
  • Keep your phone charged! 


During the call

  • In the busy Clearing period you might find you’re on hold for a while be patient and don’t panic if you can’t get through straight away.
  • If it's engaged, don't waste time move on to your next option and try again later.
  • Lots of universities will be offering live chat options as well so take a look at their website if you’re having trouble getting through.
  • Get names, emails and direct phone numbers in case you have to re-connect or follow up. ‘Universities often involve extra staff to cover the Clearing period so it’s important to know who has provided information if you need to ring back,’ careers adviser Stella Barnes explains.
  • Speak clearly and confidently and don't be afraid to be honest about why you think you didn't achieve your grades, if asked.
  • Sell yourself why should the tutor give you a place on the course? Use examples to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the subject area, and make specific references to something about that particular course you uncovered during your research.
  • If you realise the call isn't going well or you don't really fancy the course, don't be afraid to just wrap it up. Thank whoever you're talking to on the phone and politely end the call.
  • As a politics student at Coventry University sums up: ‘Treat it like speed-dating; if they can't offer you what you are looking for, move on!'


After the call

  • After you’ve got your verbal offer from the university you want to go to (and you're sure about going there!), head straight to Ucas Track to do all the necessary paperwork/electronic admin.
  • Sort out accommodation. Some institutions will set aside space in campus halls for students coming in through Clearing. However, if your university can't offer this, they'll at least be able to point you in the right direction to private landlords and letting agents in the area.
  • Update your student finance body to tell them where you'll be heading to. Depending on where you'll be studying, you might get a little more in financial support.

We have a special Clearing hub full of helpful advice for each stage of the Clearing process, from coming up with back-up courses quickly (and sensibly) to tips from students who've been through it themselves.

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