How does university clearing work?

A young person is talking to a friend whilst holding their phone

If you didn’t get the results you wanted, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean your university dreams are over. But if you’re opting to go through clearing this year, you are going to need to be canny about it. Read our guide to find out more.

What is university clearing?

Clearing is the process of filling spare university places once exam results have been announced. The places are advertised on UCAS from mid July to September, and are also listed in the national media.

Can I use clearing?

If you have applied to university this academic year, you will be able to use clearing as long as you have not withdrawn your application and one of the following applies to you:

  • You applied after 30 June
  • You didn’t get any offers from universities or colleges you’ve applied to
  • Your place is not confirmed after exam results are published

Where do I start?

The first thing to do is check whether you have still scraped a place, despite getting lower grades. This information can be found in the ‘Track’ section of your UCAS account. If you haven’t been accepted, you will be given a clearing number that helps identify you to universities. Once you have this information you can start applying for places.

How do I find a uni course I want?

Search through the listings online using the UCAS search tool, to see what is available. You can contact universities and colleges that you declined an offer from earlier in the year, but you don’t have to stick to the original courses or subjects that you applied for.

When you find a course you are interested in, contact the university to find out more and see if they would accept you. You don’t want to commit to an unsuitable course or university just because you are panicking, so stay calm. Do your research and ideally go and visit potential universities.

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

Make sure you swing into action as soon as possible. “If you decide you want to apply for a clearing place, make sure you have access to a computer and a phone, as you will need to do a lot of research quickly,” says Dr Kate Bradley, admissions tutor at the University of Kent. “Familiarise yourself with the UCAS procedures, and make sure you have all your paperwork to hand.”

When looking at the list of UCAS 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 university admissions tutors. Be polite, alert, friendly and confident on the phone, ask questions and take notes.”

Do I have to be around on results day?

It’s your future – the next three years of it anyway. Competition for places is fierce and you want to make a good impression to your potential new university. Therefore it’s 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.

What happens if I get offered a place?

If a university provisionally offers you a place and you want to accept it, you need to do this online. 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 and be on your way to getting your degree.

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

You can always re-take your exams and try again for next year. Think through your options and decide if a degree is really right for you. There are vocational qualifications and apprenticeships you can do instead to build your CV and steer you towards a career.

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 and 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 02-Aug-2021