If you didn’t get the exam grades you were looking for or you don’t have an offer for a place at university for the coming academic year (2016), the UCAS Clearing system could be for you.

First-things-first, getting into higher education isn’t easy; it’s not supposed to be. In fact every year tens of thousands of students find a place, not through the initial direct UCAS application system but through Clearing. Whilst it may not be what you expected to have to do to get into a degree course (or similar), you shouldn’t feel too unhappy and certainly not worried. Clearing can provide options for you. The key to using it is in understanding the process and being prepared.

Clearing is an official part of the University and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS), the organisation, that as you’ll already know (if you’ve applied to a university course) through which your applications to universities and most colleges of higher education are processed. Clearing is a way for universities to fill any spaces they have left for the new academic year and gives applicants who do not hold an offer another chance of finding a university place.

(If you’re eligible for Clearing, your Clearing number will be on the ‘Welcome’ page and ‘Your choices’ section of Track – the online system you’ll have used during your application process.)

Identifying courses that interest you

Clearing allows you to identify the courses (with vacancies) that interest you and contact course providers directly to discuss whether or not they’ll offer you a place. Just as you did during your original application (and persona statement) remember that universities are looking for the best undergraduates they can find. This still stands – make sure you have an idea about why you want to study that particular course at that particular university. It’s a good idea to look at individual university profiles on either the UCAS website or the websites of individual universities. Keep going until you receive an offer you are interested in accepting. Informal offers are usually issued immediately or very soon after you’ve spoken with a university. (You can collect a number of informal offers and then make a choice from them.)

The process

You’ll need to give the universities you contact your Clearing number. This will be on the welcome email you received from the Track service. (You’ll know you’re using Clearing if your Track status reads: ‘You are in Clearing’ or ‘Clearing has started’ – if it doesn’t it may be that your results haven’t been updated and it might be that your application, even if you haven’t met the entry conditions, to a particular university, is still being considered. If this is the case, contact them to see if they are still prepared to accept you.) The search tool on the UCAS website enables you to find courses that might be suitable for you. (Once you have a verbal offer from a university that you’d like to go to, you can add the course in Track.)

You may have originally only applied for one course for the reduced fee of £12, in which case you’ll have to pay an additional £11 to enable you to apply for multiple courses.

Check the official Clearing listings on the UCAS website, or the websites of individual universities to find out about vacancies. These official listings are always the most comprehensive and up-to-date. (There may be a few vacancies not listed in the official vacancy listings because the universities know they can fill them with speculative applicants but these tend to be small in number and get snapped up pretty quickly.)


Universities often offer open days enabling Clearing applicants (and their parents and carers) to visit. You’ll be able to take a look at the facilities (including the accommodation) talk with staff and students. Your visit might highlight any potential challenges you could face if you take up an offer to study, in which case these can be put directly to the Disability Officer.

According to the Complete University Guide website: “Even if there is not an official opportunity to visit, the Clearing applicant is well advised to contact the university and try to see the place prior to making a firm commitment.”

Universities tend to have the interests of the applicant in mind and provided that there is not too great a gap between receiving an offer and making the visit, they will generally hold open the offer of a place.

Speak with the Disability Officer

Every university will have a disability team and disability officer who will be able to advise and provide practical support for disabled students. If you have a disability, medical condition or specific learning difficulty, contact the Disability Officer to find out more about the support that is available to ensure you have the same opportunities as everyone else. 

The Disability Officer will also be able to advise you on suitable accommodation. Sorting out a place to stay which is appropriate to your needs, either on campus or locally, can take time so it’s advisable to get in touch with them as soon as you can.

More tips about Clearing:

  • Consider different subjects – you don’t have to stick with your original idea. You might need to expand your thinking about the courses you would like to take up in order to maximise the choices available to you. Think about alternative courses (perhaps a joint course with another subject instead of a single subject course). Before you start ringing up universities it might be a good idea make a brief list of possible courses and universities you like the look of, in order of preference.
  • The online list is updated regularly – you might not find the exact universities or courses you’re looking for – some might be full, but some might get vacancies later on, so keep checking.


UCAS – www.ucas.com

The Complete University Guide – www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk