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Clearing Myths Debunked

What you can really expect from Clearing.

Results day is a nerve-wracking time for A-level students. It can feel like your whole future is hanging in the balance, especially if you have your heart set on a specific university course that you need to achieve good grades to get into. 

But if things don’t go exactly to plan, there are plenty of options to explore – including University Clearing

The Clearing process can seem a bit confusing, and there are a lot of misconceptions about how exactly it works. To help you better understand this (and debunk some common myths), we surveyed current A-level students and university students who applied through Clearing to find out more about their perceptions and experiences.

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What is University Clearing?

Clearing is a UCAS service that UK universities use to fill places on courses that haven’t been taken yet. This allows students who don’t hold any offers to find a place on a course, whether because they didn’t meet their required grades, got better grades than expected or decided to change to a different course.

University Clearing starts in July each year and is available until October to any students who:

  • Are not holding any offers from initial UCAS applications, or there are none they want to accept (including any through Extra)
  • Applied after 30th June 
  • Did not meet the conditions of their offer
  • Have performed better than expected in their exams and want to change course or university, as a result
  • Have changed their mind about where/what they want to study
  • Have declined all of their choices

64% of A-level students we surveyed said they are worried about not getting into their chosen university, and just under half (45%) said they plan to use Clearing this year after receiving their results. 

Unfortunately, over a quarter (27%) also admitted they aren’t sure what Clearing is, and another 31% said they don’t know where to go to get advice and support for the Clearing process. This is why it’s important that schools, colleges and universities provide students with as much information and guidance as possible about their options.


Most Common University Clearing Myths

With so many A-level students unsure about what Clearing is or how to get support with it, we’ve rounded up the most commonly believed myths about Clearing to provide students with some clarity.

The most common misconception about Clearing is that it opens on A-level results day, with over half (54%) of students believing this to be the case. 

Clearing actually opens in early July every year, over a month before results day. This allows students who don’t yet have any course offers (e.g. because they missed the original UCAS deadline or couldn’t decide on a course) to apply through Clearing.

The first step in the Clearing process is to call universities you are interested in, as this is the easiest and quickest way to contact them about securing a place through Clearing. 

While just under half (49%) of students believe their parents or teachers can contact universities for them, this isn’t true. Students who want to apply through Clearing must contact the universities themselves, and be prepared to give them all the necessary information (such as UCAS number and A-level results) and answer any questions.

Nearly half (49%) of A-level students believe it’s possible to apply through Clearing while still holding one or more offers from universities, but this is another misconception.

You may only apply through Clearing if you do not currently hold any offers – whether because you didn’t meet grade requirements, or because you decided to reject a previous offer to apply somewhere else instead. 

However, A-level students are able to look at the courses available through Clearing while still holding offers. This means you can look at all the options available to you and make an informed decision about whether to reject any current offers and choose a different course instead. 

Sadly, 48% of A-level students believe that Clearing is a stressful experience that happens very quickly – but this doesn’t need to be the case. 

If you take the time to research Clearing and understand the process, it can actually reduce stress and anxiety by providing you with a good back-up option if results day doesn’t go as planned or you have a change of heart about what university or course to attend.

35% of students said they don’t know how to use Clearing to get a place at university, which can contribute to this feeling like a stressful and rushed process. This is why it’s so important to do plenty of research and be prepared ahead of time.

Clearing isn’t always a last resort, despite 44% of students believing it to be. 

Applying through Clearing is a great option for students who decide they want to do a different course than the one they originally applied for, or attend a different university. It’s also very helpful for anyone who missed the original UCAS application deadline, giving them another chance to explore their options and secure a place on a course they are interested in. 

Because Clearing opens in July, students can start looking at courses through Clearing and considering their options well before they receive their university results. In fact, 57% of university students who got in through Clearing said that they knew what courses were available to them ahead of results day. While there’s no guarantee all courses will be available, it’s a great way to get a feel for the options.

This allows plenty of time to research and come up with a plan if your results don’t turn out to be what you expected.

How long does University Clearing take?

To further debunk the myth that Clearing must be a rushed and stressful process, we asked university students who got in through Clearing how long after results day they accepted a place. 

Just 3% of students accepted a Clearing place on the same day they received their A-level results, with most taking an average of nearly six days to confirm a place. 

Over half (57%) of students who used Clearing also said they visited the university prior to accepting their offer, demonstrating that they had plenty of time to research and make an informed decision while applying through Clearing. 

Top reasons for using Clearing

Following on from the top Clearing myths, we’ve also taken a look at the common misconceptions A-level students have about why people use Clearing and how this compares to the experiences of students who used Clearing to get into university. 

37% of A-level students believe that Clearing is mainly used by people who do not achieve the grades they need to get into the course they want. In reality, only 22% of university students who went through Clearing reported that it was because they didn’t get the required grades, meaning this isn’t the most common reason. 

The most common reason for applying through Clearing among university students we spoke to was actually to switch from another course, with over a quarter (26%) of students saying this is what they did. However, only 16% of A-level students believe this to be the most common reason, suggesting that many might be unaware that this is even an option for them. 

While there is a common misconception that Clearing is mostly used by students who don’t meet the grade requirements for their chosen course, plenty of students actually use it for the opposite reason. Anyone who receives higher grades than they originally expected can use Clearing to switch to a better course or university, allowing them to ‘upgrade’ their choice in light of their good grades. 

University student experiences of the Clearing process

Over 38% of current university students who went through Clearing said they had a negative perception of the process before they went through it themselves. Based on the feedback from current A-level students, it seems likely that this was because they didn’t have a good understanding of how Clearing works, or didn’t receive enough guidance and support. 

Fortunately, after going through the process, over two-thirds (68%) of students said they had a good experience with Clearing and just 9% reported a negative experience. 

Top tips for University Clearing

If you’re feeling nervous about the possibility of going through Clearing this summer, we’ve put together some top tips to help you feel more confident.

Clearing can feel like a stressful process, but it doesn’t have to be. 

It's important to stay calm and composed, and remember that there’s no reason to be stressed if you’ve done your research and feel prepared for the process.

Take some time to research and familiarise yourself with the Clearing process well before results day. 

Remember Clearing opens in July, so you have plenty of time to make a list of potential universities and courses you're interested in. This way, you can make sure you're prepared if you do need to make any quick decisions.

When contacting universities through Clearing, you’ll need to make sure you have all of your details to hand. This includes things like:

  • Your UCAS ID Number
  • Your A-level, AS-level and GCSE results (or equivalents)
  • Your UCAS personal statement 
  • Any questions you have about the university or course

Don't hesitate to reach out for guidance and support. Talk to your teachers, career advisers or university admission officers to seek advice. They can provide valuable insights and help you make informed decisions during the Clearing process. 

Additionally, consider talking to friends or family members who have been through Clearing about their experiences and any tips they might have.

The most important thing to remember is that going through Clearing doesn't mean you've failed. It's an opportunity to explore new options and find a path that suits you. 

With 59% of A-level students admitting to feeling worried they won’t get the grades they need to get into their desired university course, it’s vital to understand that Clearing is a good alternative option to find a course you’re interested in. There may be a similar course at a different university you can apply to, or even a joint honours programme.

Stay positive, remain flexible in your choices, and focus on finding a course and university that will provide the education and experience that’s right for you.

Methodology and sources

All data on university students taken from a survey of 250 UK students at university who got into university through the clearing process.

All data on A-level students taken from a survey of 252 UK A-Level students in their final year at sixth form college, college or secondary school with a sixth form that are planning to go to university. 

Both surveys were carried out in May 2023.


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