How clearing works: this year's applicants are in a strong position

Aug 14, 2014

With an extra 30,000 university places available this year, prime courses will be on offer through clearing

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Today is results day: A-level students across the UK are finding out whether they have the grades they need for university. The good news for anyone hoping to find a course through the clearing system is that there will be an extra 6,000 clearing places up for grabs this year, with universities seeking a record total of 500,000 freshers, 30,000 more than last year, says the BBC.

These days, results can arrive by text message, online, or still in an old-fashioned envelope. Many students will get good news today – but some will learn they have not achieved the grades they hoped for and cannot take up the university place they were offered. 

For them, disappointment may give way to stress as they are forced to weigh up options, but going through clearing doesn't have to mean settling for second best. 

What do students do first if their results are worse than expected?

Go in to college, is the BBC's advice. Teachers will be able to advise students on what to do next. Some students will have missed out on their first choice but may still be offered a place on their second, the 'insurance' option. Others may not be able to take up either offer – and clearing is their next step.

 What is clearing – and how long does it take?

Clearing is the process of matching would-be students who no longer have an offer from a university – usually  because they didn't make the grades – to universities who have unfilled places. Some of those empty slots are created because the students to whom they were promised have not achieved good enough grades. Most spaces are filled within a few days, so students have to act fast to secure themselves a position.

How does clearing work?

Would-be students need to take charge of the process themselves, finding an alternative course from the official list of vacancies, researching it and then calling the university in question directly to try to secure a place. "Still the nerves and warm up the telephone voice," advises David Ellis in the Daily Telegraph, offering plenty of advice on what he calls a "daunting process".

Where do students find a list of vacancies?

Ucas, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, maintains an official list of vacancies on its website. It also runs a customer support centre on 0371 468 0468 which advises individuals on their progress through clearing.

Are the best courses available through clearing? 

Clearing used to be seen as a route to a consolation prize, but this is changing. The Daily Telegraph reports that at least 18 out of the 24 universities in the elite Russell Group (which includes Oxford and Cambridge) are offering courses through clearing, including biology, chemistry, physics, economics, maths, geography, history, English, French and German. Some of the best universities are treating clearing as "akin to the football transfer windows", says higher education expert Mike Boxall, using the process as an opportunity to find students who have performed better than expected.

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.

Read more: