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Offers & clearing

How you are chosen

It’s not always clear how you are chosen - some people think it is more or less a lottery. The situation is obviously different on a highly competitive course at a popular university than it is on a hard-to-fill course somewhere less popular. On some courses, you will be accepted if you apply with the minimum entrance qualifications. But on some top courses, where all applicants have straight As, universities are using extra admissions (or aptitude) tests to help admissions tutors decide.

Each university has a target number of places that it must meet precisely - if possible with teachable students. They adopt one of two ways of going about it (or both): they can make a large number of conditional offers so that the exam results do the choosing; or they put more reliance on admissions tests, interviews and references.

After the summer results are known, universities that have missed their target numbers may accept applications they would have rejected earlier in the year. Do not lose heart if you have not yet got a place; keep badgering admissions staff - even after the beginning of term.

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You may be offered a place in one of two ways - unconditionally or conditionally.

  • Unconditional offers are what they say they are - you’re in!
  • Conditional offers are usually dependent upon the results in exams you have still to take (though they may depend on eg the result of a CRB check, portfolio of work or may include extra GCSEs or AS-levels). Your conditions on exam results may be expressed as grades in specific exams, or as total points to be achieved. If you are asked for specific grades, they will mean it (do not suppose that a poor grade in one subject can be compensated for by a better grade in another, unless your offer is expressed in points). But there is no telling what they will actually accept in August when the results are published and they can see what everyone else has got.

Some offers are expressed so badly they are almost incomprehensible. If you don’t understand an offer, contact the university to find out precisely what it means - you can’t afford not to know.
Once the universities have made decisions on all your choices, the ball is back in your court and you reply to your offers online using Track. After this, you cannot keep more than two offers through UCAS (only one, if your offers are all unconditional).

This means you may have to turn some down. If you still have exams to take, make your best guess as to what grades you will get and compare these with your offers. One strategy is to accept your first-choice course whatever the offer, together with the course that has made the lowest offer as a fall-back. Another is to accept the two lowest offers to give you the maximum chance of a choice later.

Don’t accept any university you have not visited and would not be happy to attend.

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Just missed your offer?

If you do not get the grades or points to match your offer, all is not lost. You are not alone - over 47,000 people find their place on first-degree courses in Clearing.

To start, check whether your chosen course will take you in spite of your results. If you have only missed your offer by a grade or two, use Track and telephone the course tutor (not UCAS). If everyone else has met their offers, the course will be full and the tutor will be inflexible. If hardly anybody did, the admissions tutor may be glad to take you. So don’t just assume they don’t want you; speak to the course tutors - you may be lucky.

If not, you’re into Clearing. Don’t panic but be prepared to move fast.

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So this is how Clearing works.

  • Your clearing number. UCAS will automatically put a Clearing Number for you onto Track. It should be there by the first week in September, so check as soon as you can - most of the action takes place immediately after A-level results day and speed is of the essence.
  • Courses available. To find out which courses are still available, look at the official list on the UCAS website - Clearing Course Search. The information is also in the national press (from the third Thursday in August). If you want to study locally, check out the local press and local radio and TV. If you want to talk to somebody, your school/college should have staff available and there is a national helpline (0808 100 8000). Universities with places available often have specially staffed units and open days during Clearing.
  • Contact universities. Now is the time for you to contact universities and colleges direct. Keep focused. Do your research well. Keep shopping around. But move fast - don’t be away on holiday or stuck at a job; loads of other people will be on the phone too and you want to get in first. And do it yourself; don’t leave it to your parents to do it for you - that hardly shows you’re keen.
  • When you have an offer. If a university offers you a place that you want to accept, give them your Clearing Number so they know you do not already have a place. They will then give you a date by which you must enter their course details on Track (you can only enter details for one course choice). UCAS will send an official letter when it’s all done and dusted.
  • Be sure to contact the university first. Only enter a Clearing choice if you have been in touch with the university, they have offered you a place on the course and you want to accept it. If you enter a Clearing choice without being provisionally offered a place, your application may be delayed.

Many people take the wrong decision in Clearing. These are the students most likely to drop out in their first year or be dissatisfied with their university experience. Don’t compromise on your basic criteria: eg if you know you can’t stand big cities, don’t accept a place in central London just because it’s on offer. Use this website to make sure you only accept the right sort of place for you.

Good luck!

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Completely unstuck?

Tough, but not the end of the world. You can think about the following immediate options:

  • Resit your exams (or take a new lot)
  • Aim lower - eg if you have passed one A-level, try an HND or Foundation degree course. If you choose somewhere with a linked degree course, you might be able to transfer later
  • Try for an Open University degree
  • Or forget all about university for the time being and get on with your life.

This is not as silly as it may sound - there are plenty of second chances at university for mature students with indifferent A-levels (or none). You will almost certainly be able to come back to education later - thousands do. About 25% of current undergraduates started their degree courses when they were over 21.

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