Future You podcast transcript

How Clearing works

Henry Godfrey-Evans, Editorial assistant
July, 2022

In this episode of Future You, Matthew Bridge an admissions officer from the University of Sussex joins us to shed some light on Clearing. He explains what Clearing is, what the process involves and debunks any myths surrounding it


In order of first appearance:

  • Henry Godfrey-Evans - editorial assistant, Prospects
  • Matthew Bridge - deputy undergraduate admissions officer, University of Sussex


Henry Godfrey-Evans: Hello and welcome to Future You, the podcast brought to you by Prospects, the graduate careers experts. My name is Henry Godfrey-Evans. If you feel like some of the content we covered today helped you then check out the rest of our podcast episodes. But for today's episode, we are covering the topic of Clearing.

We're going to interview Matthew Bridge, he's an admissions officer at the University of Sussex. And hopefully he'll be able to answer any of the questions you have, whether it's just one or two or whether you know nothing on Clearing. Clearing can be quite a stressful series of events, but we like to emphasise that there are a lot of options out there; more than you realise. What's more, it's actually a simpler process than people think it is. Either way, knowledge is power. And that's what Matthew is here to do today, is provide you with that knowledge.

So Matthew, would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?

Matthew Bridge: Yeah. Hello, my name is Matthew Bridge. I'm the Deputy undergraduate admissions officer at the University of Sussex. I worked at Sussex within admissions for about six years now. And this will be my seventh Clearing. I joined Sussex about two weeks before Clearing started in the summer of 2016. So it's a bit of a baptism of fire. But I've quite a bit of experience now working throughout Clearing.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: So I guess this is what everyone has been waiting for, what is the system of Clearing? And how does it work?

Matthew Bridge: Of course, yeah, so it works in slightly different ways for different people, depending on your kind of, I guess, status within UCAS. So I think the first thing to point out to anyone who has no experience of applying to university or applying through Clearing is that you will need to have created a UCAS account to be able to apply through Clearing or to be able to apply to university. So I think that's something that people should always bear in mind, if they're not aware of that you need to have created UCAS account before you can start approaching universities in any way to make an application. But providing you've done that, there's a couple of different ways that it works.

So if you're an applicant who has applied through the main cycle, you might have applied to five different universities back in November, December time. If it comes to results day, and unfortunately, you missed the conditions of your offer for both your firm and insurance choice, you'll find yourself now in Clearing you unfortunately, you won't have a place at a university, you'll now find yourself in Clearing. And you can essentially now approach other universities who still have course places available, discuss the requirements with that university, see if you if you meet those requirements. And hopefully, if you do, that university will be able to offer you a place through Clearing on that course. So it's kind of the final chance within the admission cycle to get a place at a university on your chosen course.

It can also be used by applicants who have maybe had a change of heart. So throughout the main admission cycle, they may never have intended to go to university or they may not have been thinking about it, it may come to July, August time, all their friends are talking about going to university. And actually they think you know this, this is right for me, I do want to go to university. So just because you've not applied in the main cycle, you can create a UCAS account later on an apply through Clearing, like I say to universities that still have course places available. And it can also be used by applicants who have had a change of heart, they may have been really set on one university all the way through the process, they may have met the conditions of that university. And at the last minute, they think actually, you know, this isn't the right place for me, I want to get myself released from my place at this university and apply through Clearing to other institutions. So it can be used in that way as well. So it can be used in various different ways. But it's all about hopefully finding a place at the right university and on the right course for the applicant.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Is this very easily accessible through the website then? So I guess everyone who's applied on UCAS does it just pop up for them? Or do they have to go find it, is it quite difficult?

Matthew Bridge: With UCAS when creating an account, it's all very straightforward, the UCAS webpage and the system is quite intuitive. So to actually register for an account and create an account. It's a simple process to do that. Again, it's worth pointing out to anyone who's unaware that there is a small fee involved to make UCAS application. But once once you've got that all sorted and you've completed the application, you're in the UCAS system. So throughout Clearing, you can then start approaching institutions and are looking to make a Clearing application.

Again, I think for anyone who doesn't know it's worth mentioning that to make a Clearing application and be accepted by a university throughout Clearing you need to have already achieved the results. No conditional offers are made throughout Clearing. A university will only be able to offer your place if you've already achieved your A-level or equivalent level three results and have already met the requirements of that university for the Clearing courses that they have available.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, so I think that moves quite nicely into: When does Clearing open? And when have you missed your chance?

Matthew Bridge: Of course, yeah, so Clearing officially opens on the 5th July. So anyone who has received their results by the 5th July, and it's in the UK system can start approaching universities and seeing if they can make a Clearing application for their chosen course at that university. So, within the UK, there may be some applicants who have studied A-levels in a previous year, who may now be looking to go to university who could use that system to apply once it opens. A lot of applicants these days study the International Baccalaureate within UK schools, and the results for the International Baccalaureate are released on the 5th July. So again, those applicants are able to start making applications through Clearing if they want to once they receive their results.

I think in England or within the UK, Clearing is traditionally thought of as A-level results day because that's when the main bulk of applicants will start to apply through Clearing. And A-levels this year are released on Thursday the 18th August. So that will be the kind of main day for those applicants who are looking to use Clearing to find a place to apply. And Clearing itself actually runs right through until October. So if universities still have places available and are still open and willing to accept Clearing applications, they can be made as late as October this year. I think it's worth pointing out though, that universities are well within their rights to shut courses through Clearing when they've met their number requirements for that course or when they filled that course up. So the longer you leave it, you may find that the more limited your options are in terms of the Clearing spaces available because universities may have started to close courses because those courses are now full.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Yeah, so you want to get it done nice and soon?

Matthew Bridge: Yeah, absolutely to give yourself the best chance of finding a place through Clearing that you're happy with and that you're going to be happy studying that. You want to do it as soon as possible if you can give yourself the most options of finding a course and a university that you're happy with.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, so this is something I hadn't actually heard of before I delved into this whole research, but there's something called Clearing plus that's part of UCAS. What does that involve? How simple is that?

Matthew Bridge: Yeah, that's a very simple tool that the UCAS have introduced relatively recently. So effectively, once an applicant receives their results, if they then find themselves in Clearing. So if they haven't met the conditions of their firm or insurance choice, and they're looking to to find the place elsewhere through Clearing, if they go on to their UCAS hub page, they'll see that they should now have a button that says 'see matches'. And so Clearing Plus is effectively designed to match applicants who haven't found a place at university yet with courses that are going to be relevant to them and that they hopefully meet the requirements for as well. So UCAS will essentially use the information that you've provided in your initial application. Take the grades you've achieved, the previous courses you've applied for, and match that to universities who still have course places available and whose requirements you hopefully meet. So when you hit that 'see matches' button, you should see up to 50 courses appear on the list that will hopefully be of interest to you, and that you'll hopefully meet the requirements for as well. And if they are of interest, you can scroll through the list doing a bit of research seeing which ones you're most interested in. And you should be able to then click a button to express an interest in that course and that university. And if you do that, that will then be registered by the university who can review your UCAS profile and check that you do meet the requirements and everything for the course that you're interested in. And that university can then contact you to discuss making you an offer through Clearing for the course that you've expressed an interest in.

So it's a nice simple system, and it's designed to hopefully open up options to applicants who haven't found a place through the main cycle and give them courses to look at and institutions to think about straightaway. So it should help you on your kind of Clearing journey. If you haven't found a place through the main cycle. What I would say is that, at this time of year as well, universities are going to be extremely busy. So just expressing an interest via Clearing Plus, when you click the 'see matches' button won't guarantee you a Clearing offer. Hopefully the university will be able to get back in touch with you and discuss it in more detail and make you an offer. But if you express an interest and you don't hear anything. Don't be shy about picking up the phone and calling the university or sending an email and following up to try and get your Clearing offer because universities will be happy to discuss your expression of interest with you and happy to see if they can get things moved along as quickly as possible for you. So, do bear that in mind as well when using the Clearing Plus system.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Okay, so I think that's something a lot of people needed to hear, is that it's a proactive process and there's nothing wrong with being slightly overbearing and slightly pestering about it. But this is something that the Clearing Plus thing, it signs you up automatically, like you can just go straight into it.

Matthew Bridge: Absolutely yeah, as long as you've got a UCAS account registered and you've received your grades already for the qualifications that you've studied, it should match you up straightaway. If you find yourself in Clearing with institutions and courses that you match with. So there shouldn't really be anything you need to do apart from clicking on that 'see matches' button, then all the information should appear with, as I say, up to 50 courses and institutions that you match with, you can then scroll through, hopefully finding the ones that you're most interested in.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Yeah, that's good. That sounds quite user-friendly.

Matthew Bridge: Yeah, absolutely.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: So upon Clearing, does this affect your student finance, I know this is something a lot of people may not have even considered.

Matthew Bridge: Yeah, it's definitely something to consider. Because a lot of applicants, especially if they've applied in the main cycle, they will have been applying for their student finance at the same time. So if you find yourself in Clearing, because maybe, unfortunately, you haven't met the requirements of your firm and insurance offer. If you find a new course, at a new university, and you're accepted through Clearing, you do need to let student finance know as well. If you don't, there could be issues with you receiving your finance and it may take longer to unpick it and get it sorted. So once you've had a place confirmed through Clearing at a different university, you want to let student finance know as soon as possible.

Applicants should be able to do this just by logging into the student finance website and logging into their account. And there should be the facility to actually just notify student finance online that they're changing course and changing university. So it should be again, a relatively straightforward system for them to follow to do this. But if there are any issues or any trouble doing that, again, my advice would be to call student finance or email them to make them aware, just so that the applicant can get everything sorted as soon as possible, and hopefully be as stress-free as possible as well.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Yeah, it's a nice running theme of all this, is that it seems to be trying to manage your stress levels...

Matthew Bridge: Absolutely.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: ...and be the nicest user face possible just so that there's no layering of stress, which is really nice to hear.

Matthew Bridge: It can be stressful enough as it is. So you want to try and minimise that stress as much as possible, and follow the steps as easily as possible.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: I think so well, we've kind of got through the logical process of it all. I suppose a lot of people might be looking for advice and ways to approach Clearing. There's the right way, things to avoid, ways that people often go about things, where you're like, 'Oh, please don't do that'.

Matthew Bridge: Absolutely, I think in terms of going about it in the right way for each applicant is going to be different and a different experience. But what I would always advise applicants to do is, if they think they're going to be using Clearing, is to really think about the courses or the institutions where they think they're going to be happy. And they think they're going to enjoy their time because in most cases, applicants will be joining a course where they're going to be studying for a minimum of three years, and you're often moving away from home for the first time you're moving to a different part of the country. So it's not something that you want to rush into, you want to make sure that you're going to be happy with the choices that you've made. So when you receive a Clearing offer, you don't have to accept it straight away.

Obviously, if you are sure you can accept it as soon as possible. But just because you receive a Clearing offer, that doesn't mean that you're tied in to go into that university, you still have to have to accept that offer and commit to it. So I would really advise thinking about which courses you're going to be interested in which universities you're going to be happy studying at, and doing a bit of research around that. And I'd always advise asking questions as well. When when we have A-level results day at Sussex, we'll have a Clearing call centre that applicants will call into and will hopefully make them Clearing offers over the phone. Just because you receive a Clearing offer, don't think that that has to be the end of the conversation. The person on the end of the line will most likely be a current Sussex staff member or potentially a Sussex student helper who's helping out in the call centre. So they're going to have first hand experience of being on the Sussex campus and being at the university so they can give you a really good insight into university life. So I'd really advise asking questions as well to find out as much information as possible.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Like I suppose one big advice actually, would you say to to go to lots and lots of open days? I imagine people probably go to sort of two or three and go 'Yeah, that's it, one of those will do'.

Matthew Bridge: Yeah, of course. I think it's a tricky one. It's about striking the right balance because as I mentioned briefly at the start, universities can close courses at any point throughout Clearing once they're full. And, if you receive an offer, but don't accept it for a certain amount of time, or wait a week or two and then try to accept that offer. You may find if you left it too long that the university has now shut their places. Most universities will only be able to guarantee a Clearing offer for a certain amount of time, and if you don't accept it within that timeframe, that offer will then lapse and you need to call back to receive a new offer. So that's a good thing to look at when you initially receive your Clearing offer as well as to check how long the university has guaranteed that Clearing offer for. Because then you know exactly how much time you have to do your research, and how much time you have to accept that offer before it potentially expires.

Obviously, if it does expire, you might call back and the university will still be able to honour it because they're still open, but you run the risk that the course places could have closed if you leave it too long. So bear that in mind as well when you receive a Clearing offer. But yeah, if you do have the time and the opportunity to visit the university that you've got a Clearing offer from, we always recommend doing that. So you can get first-hand experience of seeing the campus and seeing the location. And again, really thinking about whether it's going to be a place that you'll be happy studying for a minimum of the next three years. And if you can see more than one campus, if you're interested in more than one university, that's great, because obviously you can compare and contrast. But as I say, it's really about striking the balance and making sure you don't leave it too long to make a decision because you could find that the offer that expires or course places close, and you've left it too long. So it's a bit of a tricky balance, sometimes to weigh up.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: So it's very clearly shown is it? Whether there is a deadline or not. And is there always a deadline with those sorts of things?

Matthew Bridge: It should always be shown. So speaking from the University of Sussex perspective, when we make an applicant a Clearing offer, they'll automatically receive an email confirming that we've made them a Clearing offer, it will provide them with a lot of info about other things at university such as tuition fees, start dates, accommodation. Everything like that. And it will also include a section that tells them how long they have to accept the offer. So that will always be included from the University of Sussex's side. So they should hopefully be able to see that very clearly when they receive their initial Clearing offer email. I imagine other institutions will do something in a very similar way. And if you're ever unsure about how long you have to accept an offer, or any conditions that are included in any offer in terms of when you're able to accept, again, just ask the person on the phone or follow up with an email and try and clarify it as soon as possible for your peace of mind more than anything, so you know exactly how long you have to accept the offer.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: I can only imagine having absolutely everything to worry about at this sort of stage when everything's all up in the air and you're worried about your future, which should be quite nice just to have four or five unis that you might go for. Would you agree with that?

Matthew Bridge: I think it's always worth keeping other options in mind, because the best case scenario for applicants who applied in the main cycle is that they'll meet the conditions of their firm choice University, and they'll be placed at that university, they'll be happy to start there in September, and then they don't have anything to worry about. But if you think you may be looking to go elsewhere through Clearing, or you once you've set your exams, if you're slightly anxious about the grades you're going to achieve because maybe you feel one exam may not have gone as well as you'd have liked it to.

There's no harm in doing a bit of research and having a couple of ideas in mind as to where you think you might like to approach should you find yourself looking to find a place through Clearing. So in terms of doing a bit of research and keeping your options open. There's no harm in doing that at all, because you're just keeping those ideas in mind, should it turn out that you do need to use Clearing to find a place. So yeah, I think it's always a good idea to keep your options open and keep an open mind at this time of year.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Are there any myths surrounding Clearing that you want to debunk on this platform?

Matthew Bridge: I think the main myth to try to debunk - and this myth is been reducing kind of year on year - is that Clearing is in some way a bad way to enter university or the wrong way to enter university. I think in previous years, there's always been a bit of a stigma attached to it. And people have felt that if they apply to university or join a university through Clearing that that's not as valid as someone who's found their place through the main application cycle. And that's just not true at all, that the place that you get through Clearing at university is just as valid as someone who's found their place, by getting accepted by their firm institution or however they may have found their place.

The degree certificate that you come out with at the end of your three years, or however long your study is, won't say that you found your place through Clearing. Employers won't ask or care how you found your place at university as long as you've got a good degree and studied subjects and come out with a good result that they're interested in. That will be all that they care about. So if you find the place through Clearing, no one will ask you when you join university, how you came about your place, chances are you'll forget after a week or two how you came about getting your place. And so I think that's the main thing that I tried to debunk is that using Clearing as as a way to find a place through universities is in any way, the wrong way to go about it because it's not at all. The main thing is that you find a place at university that you're happy with, on a course that you're happy with, and the way you came about that place is then irrelevant.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: As soon as you apply for Clearing, how quickly is it all resolved?

Matthew Bridge: So if you look at it from A-level results day, so this year, applicants will be able to contact universities or at Sussex from 8am onwards, that's when our phone lines will open. So you can start receiving a Clearing offer from the University of Sussex from 8am onwards on the 18th August. In terms of them being able to accept that offer UCAS will only start allowing applicants to accept Clearing offers. And to do that you have to go onto your UCAS hub page and actually select the university in the course that you've been offered, and you can only do that from 3pm onwards on Thursday 18th August. So in the morning, that's when you want to try and find your Clearing place and speak to different universities, because you can, in theory, get as many Clearing offers as you like, and then pick the best one from 3pm onwards once your UCAS hub page opens back up for you to do so. And if you do that, from 3pm onwards, you'll select your university.

If you select the University of Sussex, because you've received a Clearing offer from us we'll then be notified that you've done that. We'll then work through all the Clearing acceptances on our system and send an email out. Ideally the same day, but if not the next day, confirming that you're now confirmed as a student at Sussex, you'll receive an email again telling you all about what the start of term will look like what the registration process will look like and things of that nature. So from A-level results day onwards, it should actually be a very, very quick process. And a quick turnaround from the point you actually make a Clearing application to accepting that Clearing place to hearing back from the university that you're expected as a student. So it should all be a very quick turnaround at that time of the year with Clearing opening on 5th July for other students or other applicants who have their qualifications already, the process can be exactly the same. If you're applying to a university with your results already, the university has everything that it needs to make a decision and offer you a place through Clearing, you'll receive that Clearing offer very quickly, you can accept it as soon as you like from that point onwards, and get yourself confirmed as an expected student at that university. So it can be a very, very quick process from start to finish.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: That is reassuring. So is there anyone you would recommend contacting if they still had questions or they didn't quite understand what we've covered?

Matthew Bridge: Yeah, absolutely. I think there're a few different avenues that applicants can explore to get advice. So you can always call a university admissions team at the University of Sussex, we're happy to take calls and chat through the process. If anyone's got any questions, or is unclear of anything, or unclear in any way of how the process works. Obviously UCAS has a contact centre that applicants can call as well, if they're unsure of anything with regards to the UCAS side of things. And UCAS, we'll be happy to explain the process to them.

I think a really important one as well, as always schools and colleges and speaking to teachers, you know, they'll also go through this process every year. So they'll have a good understanding of how the process works and what the ins and outs of it are. So always if you're ever unsure, feel free to speak to teachers and student advisors or whoever it may be at your school or college that would be the best person to do so, and get the information you need. But I think the important thing is if you're ever unsure of anything, pick up the phone and call, or email, and whoever you're contacting whether that be the university, whether that the UCAS they'll be more than happy to get back to you and answer your query as soon as possible.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Great. Well, before you leave us forever is there anything you feel like you like to tell people or a piece of advice you'd like to give that you want to say before you go?

Matthew Bridge: I think the main thing is just to try and stay as calm as possible. It can be a very stressful day, a very anxiety-inducing time for students or applicants because they're worried about finding a place at university. But you'll always have options open to you. Whether you find a place through Clearing this year, that's great. Whether you choose to go back and resit your A-levels whether you choose to go off and do something entirely different, whatever it may be. Always try and remain as calm as possible, because you do have options open to you.

If you don't find that you've met the conditions of your place or your first choice university, it may feel incredibly dispiriting or stressful when you have to go through the Clearing process or anything else. But for the vast, vast majority of people it will work out and you will find the place that you're happy with.

Henry Godfrey-Evans: Thanks a lot Matthew, you've been brilliant. Hopefully everyone's learned a lot. If we say going to learning points from this episode, I'd say number one, Clearing is not exclusive to people who applied early on in that year. You can enter Clearing upon receiving your grades regardless. The second thing is, get everything done right away, maximise your chances of getting a Clearing place get on UCAS at 3pm. The third thing is probably the most important thing and that's 'do not panic'. There are plenty of options and while stakes may feel quite high, the process is simple and you may have your university place sorted that very day. But thank you for coming. Really appreciate you listening in. I hope you've learned something. If you do want to learn some more, because we've got plenty more content, please go on prospects.ac.uk/podcasts. But for now. it's goodbye and see you next episode.

Transcript ends.

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These transcripts are produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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