‘Don’t jump the gun’: how to make the right choice on clearing day | Education


There are many reasons you might be joining the clearing pool this summer: maybe you didn’t get the grades you wanted, or perhaps you did better than anticipated. Maybe you’d like to switch course or trade up to another university. Whatever reason, don’t worry: there are plenty of resources to help you navigate what can seem like a stressful day.

A great starting point is social media – this can be a useful tool, and not just on results day. Universities will have been advertising places in recent weeks, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on these over the next 48 hours. In recent years, lots of universities have developed clearing apps, too.

“We know that making a telephone call to a university can be pretty nerve-racking,” says Charlotte Renwick, who works in student recruitment at Leeds Beckett University. “So for the last few years we’ve now made offers via social media and live chat.” Last year, the university made 495 offers via Becky the Chatbot alone – but it’s important to remember, you don’t have to accept them on the spot.

This is 22-year-old Venandah Madanhi’s main piece of advice for students going through clearing, after she missed her offer to study law at LSE by just a few points. “Don’t jump the gun. I wish someone could have told me that it’s not about where you go, but what you do there, and whether you make the most of it,” she says.

Madanhi ultimately chose Aston University for its city campus in Birmingham. She’s now undertaking a training contract to become a commercial solicitor with a major law firm.

This year, it’s expected that 50,000 students will make use of the new Clearing Plus scheme on the Ucas site, which launched at the start of July. This enables you to click on “view matches” to start browsing courses that an algorithm has identified as a good match for you. If you’d like to be considered for one of these, click the “I’m interested” button, your details will be passed to the university and if they still have places, they may be in touch. “This year, we’ve made it even easier to discover the course that could be perfect for you,” explains Courteney Sheppard of Ucas.

Teachers can also be a massive source of information and support on the day. “They know you well, and may have spent years advising pupils with similar requirements,” says Lisa Freedman, a UK university consultant to The Good Schools Guide. “They can often be helpful in weighing up the relative merits of courses open to you and suggesting options you hadn’t considered.”

This year, universities will be especially keen to recruit UK students given that lots of overseas applicants are likely to stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That said, the government has introduced a numbers cap to limit competition between universities, so it’s hard to predict exactly how clearing will play out. “Sharp-eyed students can get a good idea of where the vacancies are and make contact with admissions departments ahead of clearing,” advises Vanessa Kenneth, a careers guidance counsellor.

Freedman recommends aiming high – and applying this year rather than waiting till 2021. “This could be your opportunity to bag a bargain,” she says. “If – as seems probable – students are deterred by becoming virtual freshers, there could be a logjam of applicants for places in 2021.”

It’s important to make the decision that’s right for you – and there are plenty of good reasons to defer, such as extra time to choose your course or worries about coronavirus. But Jonathan Wilbraham, deputy head of sixth form at Durham Johnston comprehensive school, notes that students “should be cautious in doing so as employment, internship, travel and volunteering opportunities may not recover to pre-March levels for some time”.

What subject will you choose?

As Covid-19 continues to affect the next academic year, lots of students are questioning whether they’ve made the right subject choice. Owen Purcell, 18, from Accrington, was planning to study broadcast media technology. “It’s been my dream course ever since I was 14. But I’ve not heard a single word from the university about how it’s going to work and it’s just put me off the whole thing.”

According to a recent survey, students are now more than twice as likely to consider changing their subject at university than they were before Covid-19 (19% versus 8% in the first week of lockdown). And with universities still unable to promise the usual first-year experience, subject choice is even more important.

Many universities are also making significant changes to degree programmes, from the delivery of teaching to assessment methods, and in some cases to course content itself. If you are having doubts about your course, talk to the admissions office. Are the entry requirements expected to stay the same? Will all the modules be running? Prof Manuel Souto-Otero from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences thinks that some universities will reduce the number of options because they may have difficulty delivering them online.

If you had plans to study abroad, find out if your university will still be able to provide this.



If you had plans to study abroad, find out if your university will still be able to provide this. Photograph: Anna Berkut/Alamy Stock Photo

“Check websites regularly and contact the admissions office,” he says. “You’ve got nothing to lose, especially if you now think another course may be an option.”

Megan Murphy, a second- year student at the University of Bedfordshire, advises talking to teaching staff. She had originally planned to do broadcast journalism but ended up speaking to one of the senior lecturers through clearing. “He mentioned a new course which was more about radio than television and it sounded right up my street,” she says. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Some courses will also likely be more affected by the shift to online learning than others – for instance if they are largely based on practical or interactive work. “The way to find out is to talk to current students. They will have had a taste of what it’s like in an online environment and how responsive the department is,” says Souto-Otero.

There are other factors to consider. If you had plans to do a placement or spend a year abroad, find out if your university will still be able to provide this, or if virtual internships are an option.

You may also be thinking about your career prospects. Lots of jobs have been lost due to the coronavirus crisis and many employers won’t be hiring in badly hit sectors such as retail and leisure. But there are plenty of recession-proof options. Teaching, scientific research and IT-related sectors are considered a safe bet, especially if they are jobs that can be carried out from home. There’s also been a surge in interest in public sector roles, with the NHS, civil service and HM Revenue & Customs gaining ground on demand for jobs in banks and large financial institutions.

But in these unpredictable times, there are no guarantees about what the graduate labour market will look like when you come to leave university. Steven Jones, professor of higher education at the University of Manchester, says the best bet is to hone your expertise in something you know you’ll really enjoy. “Be reassured that it’s still OK to go for a subject you love.”

Expert tips

  • Start following universities you’d consider applying to on social media in advance of results day.

  • Search for “#clearing” – unis will often advertise places using this. It’s also worth checking out their Snapchat or Instagram, as well as student-run blogs, to help you get a feel for the atmosphere. On Facebook groups, current students can offer advice.

  • Research what universities are offering: some are delaying the start of term, others are moving to online lectures for all or part of the year. Think about your course requirements and what works for you. If you need more contact time, it might be worth looking at a university that’s prepared to offer it.

  • This is a year like no other, but choosing a university and a course are crucial decisions and it makes sense not to rush. Most universities allow students a day or two to accept a clearing offer once it’s made.



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