What is university Clearing?

by Dan Roberts

If you don’t get offers from your chosen universities or you don’t get the exam results you hoped for, all is not lost. The Clearing service from UCAS can help you find a university course to suit you.

Clearing is the process by which UK universities fill any available places on their courses. Provided by UCAS, the service is available to anyone who has applied for an undergraduate course through UCAS but doesn’t hold any offers. There’s now also Clearing Plus, which helps to match applicants to course spaces.

You can apply for a course using Clearing if you’re not already holding a uni offer and the course still has places. You’ll automatically be put into Clearing if you don’t meet either your firm or insurance university offers on A Level results day. All Clearing vacancies will be listed in the search tool on the UCAS website, which is constantly updated by the universities until Clearing closes for the academic year.



Will I find the course I want in Clearing?

Many students find the Clearing process intimidating but it’s actually very efficient and over 70,000 students find their ideal course through Clearing each year. Don’t be tempted to think that you’ll be ‘scraping the barrel’ – places in Clearing are not simply the ones that no one wants, as places can become available on courses for a whole host of reasons. Although some of the top universities – such as Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial – do not as a rule participate in Clearing, around 370 unis do take part, including many of the prestigious Russell Group institutions.

When does Clearing take place?

Clearing takes place from early July to mid-October each year (the precise dates vary, so check the UCAS website) but most of the action happens on and immediately after A Level results day in mid-August.

Who is eligible for Clearing?

You will be eligible to use the Clearing service if:

  • You don’t get the grades you need for your firm or insurance uni choices – If you don’t manage to meet the conditions of your offers, you can use Clearing from A Level results day.
  • You’re applying late via UCAS – If you make a university application via UCAS after 30th June, you’ll be put into Clearing automatically. If you already have your exam grades, you can start applying for courses in Clearing as soon as it opens. Otherwise, you can apply once you get your exam results.
  • You applied before the UCAS deadline but don’t hold any offers – If you didn’t receive offers from your five uni applications (or none that you wanted to accept), you’ll automatically be put into Clearing after the 30th June deadline. You will need to wait until results day before you can apply to universities via Clearing though
  • You’ve changed your mind about your firm and insurance choices before A Level results day – If this applies to you, you can ‘self-release’ into Clearing. This is an option in your UCAS Track account but you will need to be 100% sure because once you’ve given up your place there’s no guarantee it will still be available if you change your mind again.
  • You’ve changed your mind about your firm and insurance choices after A Level results day – If you’re holding a firm unconditional place but have changed your mind, you can decline your place in Track and enter Clearing instead.




How do I apply to university using Clearing?

The first thing to note is that not achieving your required grades does not necessarily mean that your uni will withdraw their offer of a place – it’s definitely worth checking! If not, you need to check in the UCAS Track tool where, if you’re eligible, you’ll see the option ‘add Clearing choice’ appear. Then check the vacancies in Clearing on the UCAS or uni websites and telephone any universities about courses that interest you as soon as possible, using their Clearing hotlines and having your UCAS Clearing number to hand. Consider other options such as joint honours courses, where you study two or more subjects together.

Keep checking, as course availability will change constantly. Get some informal offers from unis over the ‘phone and then choose which one suits you best, taking into account all factors – including accommodation. You should only add a Clearing choice in Track once you have received permission from the uni.

Can I apply to more than one university in Clearing?

You can only apply for one choice at a time in the Clearing process, although you are encouraged to explore all your options with a number of unis. When an admissions team gives you a verbal offer of a place, they will usually also give you a deadline to respond by. Get as many verbal offers as you can before making your mind up which one to accept. If you want to apply somewhere else once you’ve added a choice, then you’ll need to ask that university to cancel your place first before applying to the other one through Clearing.

What is Clearing Plus?

With thousands of courses available in Clearing each year, students can find the process overwhelming. Clearing Plus is a new service from UCAS that aims to alleviate the stress by matching up students with available courses. The system uses what UCAS knows about you from your application, along with what particular unis are looking for and what Clearing students in previous years went on to study, in order to suggest the top 50 matches for you.

If you don’t have a place or you’ve started a new application, you should see a ‘My matches’ button appear in Track. If you then express an interest in a course here, the uni may get in touch with you. Bear in mind that you are still free to apply for other courses via the search tool in Clearing in the normal way.

Clearing or Adjustment, which should I use?

If you get better grades than you expected on A Level results day, you should use Adjustment rather than Clearing. This is because Adjustment keeps your existing offer safe if you’re not successful in your application for a course with higher entry requirements. You will only lose your original course when you confirm your new one.

Can international students use Clearing?

Of course – provided you are eligible, as described above. Try to get your place organised through Clearing as soon as possible, allowing enough time to sort out a visa if you need one.

Are there alternatives to going through Clearing?

There is a temptation to make rushed decisions in the heat of results day but you should think carefully beforehand what you would really want to do in different scenarios that you might find yourself in. If you only want to study a specific course or at a specific university but don’t achieve the grades you need, you can consider taking a gap year to travel and/or resit your exams, and then apply again next year.

Note that UCAS, universities and the government are thinking about changes to the prevailing system that may make Clearing redundant in the future. Two options are being considered – either students would apply after receiving their results (post-qualification admissions or PQA) or unis would make their offers after students get their results (post-qualification offers or PQO).




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Written by Dan Roberts
MD and Founder of Mystudenthalls.com

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