How does university clearing work?

If you didn’t get the results you needed for your conditional offers, you can still make them work. We promise, your university dreams aren’t over. The university clearing process can help you find a place. But how does it work? And which courses are available? Read our guide to find out more.

A young person is talking to a friend whilst holding their phone. They are discussing university clearing.

What is uni clearing?

We’d bet a quid or two that some of the most asked questions about UCAS include, ‘what is uni clearing?’ and ‘what does uni clearing mean?”

Well, university clearing is the process of filling spare university places once exam results have been announced. Usually, the places are advertised on the UCAS website from mid-July to mid-September (it got extended to 19th October in 2021 cause of covid though). Plus, they’ll also appear in the national media.

These days you’ll even find unis advertising their clearing places on social media. So a quick Twitter search or scroll through your insta feed might actually be productive.

Can I use university clearing?

If you’ve applied to uni this academic year, you’ll be able to use clearing. The only conditions are that you haven’t withdrawn your application and one of the following applies to you:

  • You applied after 30 June.
  • None of the unis you applied to gave you offers.
  • Your place at your firm and insurance university offers aren’t confirmed after exam results are published.

Where do I start?

The first thing to do is check whether you’ve still scraped a place, even if you didn’t meet any of the conditional offers. This information can be found in the ‘Track’ section of your UCAS account. Keep in mind that although the UCAS website is working to improve their user experience, you might still have to wait a minute for the site to work since it’ll probably be overloaded. If you haven’t been accepted, you’ll be given a clearing number that helps identify you to universities. Once you have this info you can start applying for a place at different unis.

How do I find a uni course I want through clearing?

Search through the listings online using the UCAS search tool, to see what your options are. Then, you can contact universities and colleges that you declined an offer from earlier in the year. Plus, good news, you don’t have to stick to the original courses or subjects that you applied for.

When you find a course that suits you, get in touch with the uni. They’ll be able to give you more info about the course and see if they would accept you. Remember, you don’t wanna settle for the uni or the course just cause you’re panicking, so stay calm. Do your research and ideally go and visit potential universities. A lot of them will let you have a look around without there being an official open day. 

How do I maximise my chances of getting a place through clearing?

Make sure you have all hands on deck ASAP. “If you decide you want to apply for a clearing place, you’ll need to have access to a computer and a phone (ideally more than one), and get researching really quickly,” says Dr Kate Bradley, admissions tutor at the University of Kent. “Familiarise yourself with the UCAS procedures beforehand, and make sure you have all your paperwork ready.”

Another tip is that when you’re looking for clearing vacancies it’s important not to limit your search to your exact subject area. “Consider degrees that offer joint or major/minor options and similar areas of study,” says Dr Bradley. “Be ready to take calls from a tonne of university admissions tutors. Above all, be polite, alert, friendly and confident on the phone. Try to ask questions and take notes.”

Do I have to be around on results day?

It’s your future – the next three/four years of it anyway. Competition for places is fierce and you probably wanna make a good impression with your potential new university. So it’s always best to put everything else on hold and sort out clearing yourself. Getting your parents to ring for you doesn’t give the best impression. Get them on research instead. Or they can even create a profile of your interests so you have a better idea of what kind of uni and course you’re looking for. 

What happens if I get offered a place?

If a university provisionally offers you a place and you wanna calmly say ‘I accept’ (while panicking on the inside) before they have time to retract their offer, go for it. But, tbh, it isn’t gonna make much of a difference. As with most things, it’s not official until it’s online.

To do that, you’ll have to go to your ‘Track’ page and enter the details under ‘Add clearing choice’. If you’re accepted by the university, you’ll be sent an official confirmation letter. After that, you’ll be on your way to getting your degree. On a positive note, at least you’ll have truly understood the answer to, “what does university clearing mean?”

I didn’t get a place through clearing. Now what?

If things don’t work out this year, you can always re-take your exams and try again for next year. But before you do, think through your options and decide if a degree is really right for you. Remember, there are vocational qualifications and apprenticeships you can do instead to build your CV and steer you towards a career. If those sound interesting, then read our guide to different study options here.

Getting a job and working your way up the ladder is also an option. In certain industries, such as sales, career progression can happen quickly. Plus, you won’t have a whopping debt to pay off.

And there’s nothing wrong with taking time out. Maybe a gap year or working abroad (if possible) will help your morale – and boost your experience.

Next Steps

  • UCAS processes your university applications - from the very first form, right through to results day.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 23-Apr-2022