Applying to university can feel like a never-ending process. From writing a personal statement to choosing where to apply, and possibly having extra tests or interviews to complete, there is a lot to think about. For many students, this process finally comes to an end on results day, where they find out if they achieved the grades they need to go to their chosen university.
However, even if you don’t achieve the right grades, there is still a way for you to go to university in September as planned: UCAS Clearing. Whether you have missed your grades, or didn’t have any conditional offers, Clearing is a great way to still reach your university goals. Although it is a helpful tool, it can be difficult to navigate. From finding courses that suit you to calling up universities, it can be a stressful experience.
This guide has everything you need to know about UCAS Clearing, including a step-by-step guide as to how, exactly, it works for students. Being prepared for the process means you can go through Clearing with confidence and find your ideal university place – just keep reading!
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What is UCAS Clearing?
Essentially, UCAS Clearing is a way for universities to fill their remaining spaces, after the normal application deadlines have passed. It is hard for them to balance the number of offers they give out with the number of students who accept that offer and achieve the right grades in the summer.
This means they often still have places left on courses just a couple of months before the course is due to start. It is beneficial for both the university and students if these places are filled. More people can reach their goal of university, and the universities are running courses and classes for the right number of people.
UCAS is the organisation that oversees all university applications in the UK, and Clearing is the tool they provide to match up extra places, and students still looking for places, at this late stage. Often, this happens on results day, once A-Level (or equivalent) grades have been confirmed.
It is very different from the normal application process. Rather than writing personal statements and being invited to interviews, most of a Clearing application takes place over a phone call.
This, combined with the stress already present on results day, can make Clearing a daunting process for students. This article is here to clear up any confusion!
Why would you use UCAS Clearing?
There are actually lots of different reasons a student might be trying to get a university place via UCAS Clearing. Even though it is not the standard way to apply, there are plenty of students who get their university place this way, from a range of different circumstances.
If you think any of the following reasons apply to you, and you want to start university this September, Clearing might be the best next step for you!
1. You can use Clearing if you don’t get the grades you expected on results day
The most common reason people enter UCAS Clearing is that a student has a conditional offer and needs to achieve certain grades in order for their place to be confirmed. On results day, they may not reach these target grades, so do not get a place at that university.
Instead, they can use Clearing to try to find a university that will give them a place with their actual grades, not their predicted ones. This still allows them to start university that academic year, even if it is not at their original choice of university.
On the other hand, you may find you have done better than your predicted grades on results day. Predicted grades are calculated relatively early, and it is more than possible to improve before the real exam. Check out this article from Think Student for more about how predicted grades are calculated.
You may have applied to universities that match your predicted grades, but now you want to see if other places are available to you with your new, higher grades. You can use Clearing for this – universities you did not have high enough predicted grades to apply for may now offer you a place.
All of this means that both universities, and the UCAS systems, are especially busy on results day, so it is best to come prepared – more on this later!
2. You can use Clearing if you did not get any offers when you first applied through UCAS
Applying to university normally involves completing a UCAS application, which universities then look through, and decide whether they want to offer you a place. You can only complete one of these each year and apply to a maximum of five universities.
It may be that you do not get an offer from any of the universities you originally applied to. Alternatively, you might have rejected the offers you do get because you have changed your mind and do not think they would be the right choice for you.
If you still want to start university the next academic year, there are still options available. Firstly, there is UCAS Extra, which allows you to add one additional choice to your application at a time.
This service is usually available between February and July, so after the initial application deadlines. For a complete guide to UCAS Extra, check out this Think Student article.
If you do not find a place through UCAS Extra either, Clearing is your next step to find a university place that will suit you, without having to spend another year reapplying.
3. You can use Clearing if you decided you want to go to university after the application deadlines
It may be that you didn’t apply to university at all in the normal application window, because you did not think you wanted to go to university that year. However, changing your mind about this is normal. Have a look at this Think Student article for a guide to help you decide if university would be right for you.
In this case, you can still use UCAS Clearing to find a university place for the coming academic year, even if you did not originally apply at all. This means if you missed the first application deadline, which is usually near the end of January, as well as the UCAS Extra deadline, which in 2023, was June 30th.
For more about UCAS deadlines, check out this article from Think Student.
The only difference in this case is that you will have to register and complete a UCAS application, which other students will already have done earlier in the year. After this is submitted, you can add Clearing choices in the same way as everyone else – keep reading for information on exactly how to do this!
How does UCAS Clearing work? A step-by-step guide
The actual process of Clearing can be confusing for students, especially as results day is always a stressful time. Not knowing where you are going next year and having to talk to universities over the phone doesn’t help the situation.
Knowing what to expect can really help reduce this stress, so you can keep a level head and make the most of Clearing. This guide will take you through the whole process, from preparing and entering UCAS Clearing, all the way to what is hopefully a confirmed place.
1. Come prepared to use Clearing on results day
As mentioned, being fully prepared for results day definitely helps the process. You are off to a great start by reading this article! Additionally, this official UCAS guide contains plenty of information about results day.
Even if you are confident about your grades, I would always recommend having a Plan B. Before results day, think carefully about what you would be happy doing in the next year. For example, if you are certain you want to study English Literature, a gap year would be a better option than ending up on a Geography course just because it was available!
Think about which universities you would be happy at. Official university websites are a great place to start and allow you to look at lots of different universities quickly.
You can even apply to universities that may have rejected you earlier in the year. If they have spaces available, they may still consider you if your grades meet their normal requirements.
The other thing to think about is which courses you would enjoy doing. Of course, you can look for spaces on the same course you originally applied for. But there are plenty more options, including similar courses with different titles, and joint honour degrees, to explore.
Have a look at this article from Prospects for help with suitable degrees for you. It is aimed at students applying through UCAS for the first time, but you will find that the questions and advice included are still relevant.
2. Enter Clearing
UCAS Clearing is actually open for several months – in 2023, it is open from 5th July to 17th October. It is associated with results day because this is when it is most used, and universities will normally need you to have confirmed grades before they accept you in Clearing. If you already have your results, you can contact universities and add choices as soon as Clearing opens.
You will know you have entered Clearing if your application page on your UCAS Hub says so. Be patient, as it may not instantly update on UCAS.
Additionally, if you only miss your conditional offer by one grade, your firm choice of university may still be considering you. This would mean that you will not have been entered into Clearing yet.
Once this happens, you will also be assigned a Clearing number, which you can find under ‘Application status’ in your UCAS Hub. Keep this to hand – you will need it when you start contacting universities.
3. Use UCAS search tools to find suitable universities and courses
UCAS has an official search tool which is the best way to find which universities and courses have places available in Clearing. This can be found on their website here. There may be other, unofficial sources available, but these are not recommended – UCAS has the most up-to-date and accurate information.
As mentioned, keep an open mind when it comes to universities and courses – they may be a great fit for you, but you simply haven’t considered them before. It can really help to have friends and family around to talk to, as they will know you best.
Ask your parents to read this parents’ guide to Clearing from UCAS to prepare. Teachers are also very helpful to talk to, as they will have lots of experience with guiding students through Clearing.
Equally, you may find that having lots of opinions around gets distracting. Clearing can get overwhelming, so if you need to, take a breather – you aren’t the only one feeling like that!
UCAS also has a service called Clearing Plus, which can help take some of the stress away from this step. It uses the information from your application to suggest some of the best possible Clearing choices for you. You can find more about this tool and access it here on the UCAS website.
Ideally, come up with a shortlist of a few specific courses with places available. You can only add one choice at a time, so rank your shortlist in order of preference. You are now ready to contact universities and try to secure that place.
4. Get ready to contact universities about Clearing
This part of the Clearing process is what most students worry about – calling universities to see if they want to offer you a place. For top tips, check out this article from the official UCAS website.
Before you call any of the universities on your list, make sure you have everything you will need, including your Clearing number and grades. It can help to write these down. Find a quiet space with a good phone signal to make the call.
The universities will ask you why you want to study that course with them, so it is a good idea to have a few notes written down about this. Looking over your personal statement can be a good place to start when thinking about your motivation for the subject.
As well as this, have a look at the university website and think about what it is that has drawn you to them in particular. It may be that it is a university you have visited before, and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Alternatively, it may be something about the way they structure their course, or their reputation for wellbeing services.
5. Talk to universities over the phone about Clearing
Calling universities is the most common way to contact them during Clearing. That being said, many will also be all to talk to you in other ways if you are not comfortable with this, such as a live chat on their website. Check out official university websites for more on this.
When you’re actually on the phone, try to sound confident, and passionate about your course. This is obviously easier said than done! Keeping a positive mindset can help – remember, if you have called them up, you already think this will be a good fit for you. You are confident you are suited to the course, and genuinely want to go to study it at this university.
It may be that the university doesn’t think you are best suited to the course. Try not to dwell on this – you can keep calling other universities on your shortlist. If all goes to plan, on one of these calls, the university will give you an informal offer over the phone.
At this point, you are able to wrap up the conversation and add the choice on your UCAS page. Before you hang up, though, consider any questions you might want to ask them. Accommodation is a common thing to ask about – students from the original application window may have already booked up much of the first year halls.
6. Add a Clearing choice on your application
Your UCAS page will have an option to ‘Add Clearing choice’. Click this and fill in all the details for the course you received an informal offer for over the phone.
Make sure to only add a Clearing choice once you’ve contacted that university. If you skip straight to adding choices, the universities will reject it, as they have not spoken to you at all to check if they want to offer you a place.
Once this is done, all that is left to do is wait. As soon as the university confirms your Clearing choice, you have been accepted – you do not need to reply to the offer. They will send you further information about starting university in due course, but for now, congratulations – you’re going to university!
Are international students eligible for UCAS Clearing?
Yes, international students are able to use UCAS Clearing in essentially the same way as UK students. There may be a few more things to consider, such as visas and providing evidence of exam results, but the Clearing process is basically the same.
In fact, UCAS has a guide to help international students in particular through Clearing – you can find this here.
How long does UCAS Clearing take?
Students are often surprised by how quickly Clearing takes place, given how long the university application process is otherwise. Of course, the first stage of the process – research – can take as long as you would like it to. After this, though, the bulk of Clearing is done in a phone call that should only last about 15 minutes.
If they informally offer you a place and you add the choice on UCAS, they should confirm your place within just a few days. This article from whatuni.com, which also has information about plenty of other Clearing FAQs, says it usually takes between 24 and 72 hours.
Do you have to pay for UCAS Clearing?
In most cases, no, you do not have to pay anything to use UCAS Clearing. The only exception to this is if you have not completed an application through UCAS at any point that year, or only applied to one university.
UCAS charges an application fee of £27 for up to five choices. If you only applied to one choice, this is reduced to £22.50, so you will have to pay the balance of £4.50 if you want to use UCAS Clearing. If you hadn’t applied at all, you will have to pay the application fee when you register and submit your application before you can enter Clearing.
Do all universities and courses have places available through UCAS Clearing?
The vast majority of universities and courses are available in Clearing. However, there are a few exceptions to this.
The universities of Oxford and Cambridge do not take part in Clearing, along with a few other high-ranking universities such as LSE and Imperial College London. However, there are plenty of other prestigious universities that do have Clearing places available.
Additionally, UCAS conservatoires – specialist universities for subjects such as music and drama – do not typically use Clearing.
As for courses, pretty much every subject should be available through Clearing. Some of the more competitive subjects, such as medicine and law, may have fewer places available, and only at a few universities. Nevertheless, there is still a possibility to be accepted onto one of these courses through Clearing.
What happens if you don’t get a place through UCAS Clearing?
If none of the universities on your shortlist offer you a place, there are several options to consider next. Firstly, remember that Clearing is open well beyond results day. There is nothing to stop you calling more universities and researching more of the available courses.
Alternatively, if you are using Clearing because you just missed the grades you needed, you might consider appealing your grades. Check out this Think Student article for a complete guide to A-Level remarks. In this case, make sure to stay in touch with the university who gave you your conditional offer – they should hold your place until your appeal is complete.
Remember, university is not the only option for the next academic year. From taking a gap year to considering a degree apprenticeship, there are lots of different routes that may suit you really well. Have a look at this article from Career Pilot for a range of different options you have post-18.
*Information in this article, is partially based off this guide by UCAS. Follow the link to learn more about UCAS Clearing and its uses.
Please note that all facts and figures included in this article are true at time of writing (August 2023) and may have changed by time of reading.