It's that time of year when students the length and breadth of the country wait with baited breath to hear if they have been successful in attaining the necessary grades to get into the university of their choice. For many, the outcome won't be as they had hoped (or expected), in which case, it's time to turn their attentions to Clearing 2013!
Operating every year between July and September, the UCAS Clearing process provides students whose results have been worse (or better!) than expected with an alternative route into university. Clearing places are like gold dust on results day so it pays to be as prepared as possible in order to attain those precious clearing places, and here's how:
The first thing to be aware of is that when you are in clearing you need to be proactive and you will need to speak to the admissions tutors of the universities that have places available on courses you are interested in. The university staff will want to talk to you. Not a parent, not a teacher, not a careers adviser. So don't ask anyone to do it for you because you're frightened. It is a big thing, but this is something you need to do for yourself. You can do it!
How to go about calling about a clearing place
Generally, you can call one of two numbers:
• The university's main switchboard. If you phone this number, ask to speak to the Admissions Tutor for the subject you are interested in. If you have a course code too, that will help.
• The university's clearing hotline. If you phone this number you should get through to a trained advisor who will probably not be the admissions tutor, but who will still be able to provide you with everything you need.
All the universities that take a lot of students in clearing will have a hotline, like this one. The universities will be expecting lots of calls from people in your situation and the clearing lines should all have friendly, helpful people at the other end so don't worry!
Preparing for the clearing call
Do some research first so you've got some idea about what's available. Note down a few specific questions about the course, the facilities, the department. Check out what the university website says about accommodation.
If you are tongue tied, a good opening line is something like "Hello, I'd like to talk to somebody about clearing vacancies in (for example) Modern Foreign Languages"; they'll take it from there. They will be able to tell you if there are any places available and, if not, whether there are places available on any similar courses. They may ask you about your preferred subjects, style of learning and career plans - it all helps to guide you onto the right course.
Remember that the clearing hotlines can be very seductive - students are the life blood of all universities and nobody wants empty places. But you are in charge. You are buying and they are selling.
By the end of the call, you want to know:
• Do they have places that will accept your grades?
• Is there time to come and visit the university?
• Is good accommodation available?
• When do I have to decide by?
What not to say when calling about clearing 2013
Under no circumstances say any of the following:
"Hello, I just fancy coming to your university. Can you tell me which courses have places?" or "I have 280 UCAS points, can you tell me what's available?"
The universities want people who are passionate about their chosen subject and have given some serious thought to their future. Asking questions like this just makes you sound lazy, or desperate.
"You have already rejected me. I just wanted to ask you to reconsider..."
You will have been rejected because you didn't make meet the conditions of your offer. Nothing has changed. So unless you are phoning to tell them that you have just missed out on the grade you needed (say, by one UMS mark), it's a waste of everybody's time. It is acceptable, however, to phone and ask whether they have places on any closely-related courses which you might be qualified for. Again, a bit of research beforehand will save everybody time.
"If you've still got places, doesn't that mean it's a poor course?"
Well what answer would you expect them to give?! "Yes, its rubbish. I'm surprised anyone applies..." Admissions tutors will be proud of their course or courses and will be happy to talk about all of their merits. But remember that these are not exaggerated claims. Rigorous quality control is applied to UK degree courses and some real bargains are available in clearing. Often, admissions tutors get more highly-qualified students through clearing than those that applied originally, so they are prepared to put in the time and effort required to talk to the people applying.
And finally... be nice
Overall, on the phone you need to be calm, polite, positive, keen and interested. The last thing you want to do is to get bad tempered because you've been on hold for half an hour. It won't be the fault of the person who picks up the phone and it could jeopardise your chances of getting your clearing place.