Clearing guide: Take a deep breath and think clearly

Essentially, you have one month from mid-August to reorientate your life map.
Your mission is to decide what and where you’re going to study for the next
three years. Your means? A telephone, the internet and a notebook. Your
obstacles? Pride, laziness and dodgy hold-music.

By way of reassurance, according to UCAS, almost 44,000 people found places at
a university or college through Clearing last year.

Conrad Quilty-Harper is one young man with first-hand experience of the
process. In 2006, he applied to do law at Brunel and Oxford Brookes, but
when the marks were posted he discovered he’d got two Bs and two Es.

“My Mum had this tingling sense that I’d just go and get drunk after the
results, so she came home, chucked me in the living room and made me get on
the phone,” he says. “I was obviously a bit nervous, but in
high-stress situations, you either buckle or you focus. You have to put your
nerves aside and say: ‘I want to get to uni; I’ve got two Bs; let’s try to
make this happen’.”

So who is eligible for Clearing? Essentially, if you don’t have a place at uni
in September because you weren’t given an offer, you didn’t make your
grades, or you rejected all your offers, you automatically qualify for
Clearing. You are also eligible if you didn’t apply first time round, though
you will need to write up an application.

For the first time this year, you will be allowed to enter Clearing with a
safety net if you get better results than predicted. This so-called
Adjustment period is for people who want to try to get a course or a place
they didn’t originally think they would be eligible for.

The first point of call for all Clearers is the UCAS website. This is your new
virtual bible, providing a reassuringly simple guide to the whole process,
and an omniscient list of all universities ? and their contact details ?
that are open to Clearing. All you have to do is collect your Clearing
number from the site, make sure you’ve paid your £17 application fee, and
pick up the phone.

“The most important thing to remember is don’t panic,” says Kate
Butland, UCAS customer services manager and guru of all things Clearing. “It’s
the most common mistake people make.

“It sounds corny, but take a deep breath and think through your options.
It can feel like a hectic process, but you shouldn’t rush into anything.
You’re making a decision about the next three or four years of your life.”

The best way to avoid sweating and hyperventilating is to do things
methodically. If you received offers but didn’t quite meet the conditions,
your first step is to call your universities of choice and beg. You might
still get on the course you want, particularly if you can get a bolshie
teacher on hand to argue your case.

If that fails, you might want to try to get on to another course at the same
institution (with a chance of switching over once you get a foot in the
door), or you might want to apply for the same course at a different
university altogether. Whatever you do, keep decent notes of names, numbers
and courses ? the risk of descending into unintelligible scrawl is both high
and fatal.

Another crucial tip: Swallow. Your. Pride. Quilty-Harper didn’t get his first
choice after begging Brunel and Oxford Brookes to let him in, but he pushed
on anyway. When Hull offered him a provisional place to study history and
politics, he visited the campus the next day, and took up the offer.

“I was a bit snobby about Clearing to be honest,” he says. “I
thought it was a bit below me. When my Mum first suggested Hull, I laughed ?
she went there through Clearing herself!

“But the irony of the whole thing is, I think I’m a lot better off now
than if I’d got my first choice. A lot of my mates that got in to do law
hate their courses!”

The recession means that more people are choosing to apply to university
rather than enter a stagnant jobs market, so you’ve got to be prepared to
run that extra mile that little bit faster to get the place you want.

Many students don’t expect to flunk their exams, so they’re slow off the mark.
Don’t let that happen to you: before your results even come out, make sure
you have a plan B. Draw up a list of universities and courses you might want
to pursue if you don’t get your first choice, get their numbers written down
and think about what you’re going to say.

“Be polite and articulate about why you want to go to that particular
university and show a bit of passion about why you want to study that course,”
says Butland. “You might want to ask them about term dates,
accommodation or university life ? it’s important to show you’re interested.”

Of course, everyone makes mistakes. Last year one applicant rang UCAS in a
state of panic thinking she hadn’t applied in time. When the adviser managed
to calm her down enough to ask what course she was looking for, the
applicant stated “crisis management”.

A friend of mine who used to work the phones during Clearing said he was asked
out by an applicant who thought he had an “attractive voice”.
Chatting up the person at the other end of the Clearing line is one of the
top three things not to do, along with asking: a) “How big is your bar?”
and b) “What university is this again?” Asking about the male to
female ratio is acceptable if you’re a woman, but not if you’re a guy.

Final point: make sure you remember how much you have to give to these
universities, as well as how much they can offer you. There are a lot of
stereotypes about Clearing, but there are a huge number of talented people
that go through the process. Quilty-Harper felt pretty bad about not getting
his first choice, now he’s now pursuing a career in the media, having worked
for an internet company in Los Angeles and interviewed John McCain. Let’s
hope anyone who is snobby about Clearing is reading his stuff.

Top tips: how to land your dream course

*Don’t panic: this just leads to bad decisions. Not meeting your grades is not
the last mistake you’ll make in your life ? or the biggest. Focus on the
fact that you have options open to you: apply somewhere else, or take a
productive gap year and apply again.

*Call the National Exams Results Helpline: 0808-100 8000. It’s open to all
students, and it’s about the only time in your life you can get totally free
careers advice from trained professionals. Milk it.

*Be around to make the calls to different universities ? and don’t get your
parents to call.

*Be patient: you will have to spend a lot of time on the phone. UCAS has over
100 advisers fielding calls from 7am on 20 August, but last year they
received 14,000 calls on the first day. If you don’t get through first time,
keep trying, or visit the website.

*Be organised: Clearing is a frantic process and there’s a temptation to start
dialling without preparation, but it’s better to take your time. Remember
that Clearing lasts for more than a month, and keeping careful notes and
recording who you speak to can save time in the long run.

?It all happened so fast?

Georgina Clarke, 34, a beauty therapist turned law student, was offered a
last-minute place through Clearing to read law at London South Bank
University last year. She already has a degree in commercial music from the
University of Westminster.

?I?ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was a child, but never thought I was smart
enough. When I was 28, I did my first degree, before spending the next few
years working in marketing and events.

That?s when I decided I wanted to get into entertainment law, and I started
looking at courses last September. It all happened so fast. I got a place at
South Bank on the last day of Clearing and was given an unconditional offer
that day.

That was on a Friday and I started classes on the Monday! It was very
difficult at first. With no money to pay my fees, and maxed out credit
cards, I had to move in with my mum and stepfather after 11 years of living
on my own. I now work during the holidays to pay my fees, but I think it
will all be worth it in the end. Going back to university was scary, but
it?s the best thing I?ve ever done.?

?I wasn?t taken by any of my offers?

Kieran Sims, 21, may have got the grades he wanted, but he wasn?t happy
with his options. So he took the bold step of rejecting all his offers and
going through Clearing.

This year, students will be able to upgrade through the UCAS Adjustment
period, making such a swashbuckling approach unnecessary. ?I?m either a
genius or really lucky ? probably a combination of the two! I got four As at
A-level and I had offers to study physics at Southampton, Bristol and
Exeter.

I wasn?t really taken by any of the places I had offers from and I decided I
didn?t really want to do physics, so I went through Clearing to find
something more artsy, but most of the places I was looking at said they
didn?t do Clearing. I was expecting to take a year out and reapply, but
three weeks before the academic year was due to start, Durham rang me to say
there was an opening for physics. I graduated this year with a BSc.

It seems you can get in anywhere there?s a space, because the courses are run
by human beings; if you can prove you are worth it then they can make an
exception.?

?It was life changing?

Amy Cordell-Edwards, 19, gained her place on a BA acting degree at Thames
Valley University via Clearing after gaining all B-grades in English
literature, classics, drama and theatre studies at A-level.

?I wanted to go to a private drama school, but they?re expensive, so I thought
I?d spend a year working and saving up after A-levels to try to get in the
following year. But then I couldn?t find a job, so I looked on the Clearing
website in September and I saw there was one place left for acting at TVU.

I rang UCAS straight away and asked them to put me forward for an audition.
The tutor auditioning me accepted me on to the course there and then. It was
life changing! It only took about three days in total. I was the only one
out of an intake of 40 last year to get in via Clearing.

I really felt like my luck had come in, especially as I was even able to sort
out my student loan quickly and got mine before others on the course who?d
arranged theirs ages ago. It?s great because, although the degree I?m doing
[makes it feel] like drama school, because it?s at a university, it?s much
less expensive.?

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