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Clearing Up the Confusion - How to Spot Fact From Fiction in the University Clearing Process

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It's a stressful time of year for thousands of students getting their A level results and with rises in tuition fees, media claims that applications are down and places are few, it can be a confusing one too.

It's no wonder that, when London South Bank University and The Student Room surveyed 1,000 A level students, almost half weren't confident they understood how clearing worked, should they find themselves without a place at university.

London South Bank University has teamed up with The Student Room to produce five quick and simple guides to clearing at every stage of the process. 'The C Word' can be watched online at www.lsbu.ac.uk/clearing or at www.thestduentroom.co.uk/clearing

Meanwhile, here are my top clearing myths de-bunked for 2012:

Myth 1: Only the less popular courses and universities will be in clearing

This isn't true at all. Courses and universities end up in clearing for all sorts of reasons. Take a look at the listings and you'll see all sorts of institutions from all over the country, with courses in a wider variety of subject areas than in previous years. Some courses don't recruit as well until later in the year; students might decide not to take up places so they become available; other universities have places in clearing because applicants fell short of the requirements and so those places become available again.

Myth 2: If you get into your firm choice university but change your mind about going, you can withdraw and go into clearing to look for another place

This isn't strictly true either. If you get into your firm choice then, technically, you're required to take up that place. However, it is not in anyone's interest - the university's or yours - to make you take up a place you don't really want, and so most would let you go.

However, you would need to ring the university and get them to release you from that place. Bear in mind that, if that happens, you will need to go into clearing to look for a place - your insurance was automatically declined when you got into your firm choice. The same applies if you don't get into your firm choice and wish to decline your insurance place.

There is also no guarantee that you will find and be accepted onto a suitable place in clearing so think carefully!

Myth 3: Clearing is just for people who didn't do well in their A levels

This is also untrue, and even more so this year. From this year, universities can accept as many students with AAB grades or above as they wish without it impacting upon the tight number controls set on them by the government. This means that many applicants might be in clearing with high A level grades because they just missed the grades asked of them and didn't get in because they fell below the AAB threshold.

Clearing is also an opportunity for people who applied late or not applied at all to take up a place at university. I always say that clearing is a bit like a dating agency model, helping to pair applicants with their ideal match in terms of their ability and their chosen subject or university, and that is true whatever your qualifications or background.

Myth 4: If you've been rejected on UCAS track, you can sometimes call up and change their mind on the phone

Sorry, but if you have been rejected on UCAS Track, then that's it. You'll need to look at your insurance offer and if that has also rejected you, you will automatically be in clearing. If it still says 'conditional' for either your firm or insurance choice, it means the university hasn't made up its mind yet, so call them up and speak to them, find out when they will be making that decision and try to convince them of why they should accept you.

Myth 5: You can apply for a place through clearing this year and defer until September 2013

Again, not strictly true. You cannot apply to start in September 2013 through clearing this year - it is only for courses starting in September 2012. However, you may be able to persuade the university to let you defer once you have been offered a place but there is no guarantee and the university have no obligation to let you.

Myth 6: It's too late to apply for student finance now so you will have to pay your fees yourself.

No, there's still time to apply for you Student Finance but do so quickly or else you might find yourself having to wait and starting the year with no money!

Finally, some words of advice if you do find yourself in clearing this year.

Before you make that call to a university you're interested in, make notes on why you want to study there, what you like about the course; have your personal statement to hand to refer to, along with your UCAS clearing entry number and your personal ID number. You should have your results in front of you too. If you're offered a place, it might be the last one on that course, so you should be ready for anything.

Remember to be patient. Clearing phone lines are bound to be ringing off the hook for the first few days after A level results are released so persevere.

It won't all be over in one day, despite what people might be saying. Once you have an offer, check with them how long you have before you need to accept it and then consider going along to the university's open day, if they're having one, and get a feel for the place.