Discover our tailored Clearing advice for students, parents and teachers.
Making the final choice

Preparing for your university Clearing call 2021

Calling universities about Clearing can be daunting, but with proper preparation and planning you can approach it calmly and find your perfect Clearing course.

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How does a Clearing call work?

A Clearing call is when you phone a university to see if they have any spare places through Clearing. You phone via their Clearing hotline, speak to someone from the university and potentially get offered a place at that university.

Clearing lasts from July to September, but Clearing hotlines are usually busiest on A Level results day in August. This is due to the number of students receiving their exam results, finding they haven’t made it into the university they applied to, and searching for a new spot.

When to call a university

Universities say on their websites what time their hotlines are open on results day – usually from around 8am. They may be closed on a Saturday or Sunday, and the process is usually slower after the weekend.

When going through Clearing, avoid making hasty decisions. Where you go to university and what you study are big life choices. However, try to ring universities as early as possible after getting your results and deciding you want to go through Clearing. Vacancies get filled quite quickly on results day and are typically filled within the week following.

You can call lots of universities, and you don’t have to settle on the first one that gives you an offer. Be ambitious but realistic, and make sure what you decide is the right thing for you.

What to expect on the Clearing call

Universities receive lots of calls so you may have to wait in a queue before speaking to anyone. Be patient, and don’t worry if no one answers the call straight away. If the line is engaged, you can call another university and try again later.

When you call a university Clearing hotline, you’ll speak to someone who is dedicated that day to matching students with course vacancies. This could be any member of the admissions team, a subject department tutor, a student ambassador or other support staff. You may speak to multiple people during the call. They’re usually very friendly and are there to help!

At the beginning of the call, you’ll be asked:

  • To confirm your grades and UCAS points
  • Your UCAS ID number and Clearing number (this is essential)

You’ll then have the opportunity to discuss your situation and ask if there is a place available on the course you’re interested in, and whether you’re eligible for it. The call could be very simple and the university may offer you a place almost immediately.

Alternatively, the call may be like an interview you may be called back to arrange a more formal interview. Some universities ask several questions to check you’re the right fit. They want to know whether you have spent time researching what the university is offering beyond the course.

Examples of questions include:

  • Why do you want to study this course?
  • What interests you about this university?
  • What would you like to do after you graduate?
  • Do you have any experiences related to this degree?
  • How do you motivate yourself to study?

If you’ve already had an admissions interview when applying to university, the questions you were asked could be similar to those on a Clearing call.

If you're applying for a professional course (Nursing, for example) or a creative arts-based course (where you may be asked for your portfolio) the interview might be more detailed. 

You need to make sure the university is right for you, too, and you’ll have time to ask the person on the phone any questions that you like. If you’re given an offer, ask what happens next and how long the offer is guaranteed for.

How do I answer questions on a Clearing call?

Speak to the university yourself – They don’t want to speak to your teacher, parents or anyone else supporting you. They’re interested in you.

Be confident – With the right preparation, you’ll be able to answer any questions they ask. Speak calmly, politely and clearly about your future ambitions. The person on the other end of the phone wants to give you a place, so try not to worry too much about it.

Give honest answers – If you’re asked why you didn’t achieve your predicted grades, it’s okay to say why. If necessary, follow it up with how you aim to study hard and ensure you do well at university. In most cases the university will be able to see your grades via UCAS weblink system, so be honest of course!

Don’t be afraid to show off – You need to demonstrate that you’d be right for the course. Show that you’re passionate and knowledgeable about the subject you want to study.

Avoid giving short responses but keep it concise (not too much waffle) – Use positive examples to say why you like the subject area. Discuss experiences that are relevant to the course or any research you’ve done from looking into the course, subject or university.

Make notes – Write down the name of the person you’re speaking to, their number and email, just in case you have to follow up the call. You can also ask them to repeat any information you give (such as a phone number) to make sure they’ve got it right.

If the interview is online via Zoom, Teams or Google Meet, please turn your screen on – it’s important to interact with the interviewer.

How do I prepare for the call?

Before the call

Take a look at the different courses available through Clearing, and note down the numbers of the universities that appeal to you. It’s good to do this before results day, as phone lines will be busy results day morning and vacancies get filled up quickly.

You can also contact universities before results day to discuss your options. Many allow you to pre-register for Clearing vacancies and then they might get in touch with you on results day.

Make sure to research the university before calling them. As mentioned previously, staff want to feel confident that you want to study there. You don’t need to know every detail. But you can show your enthusiasm by talking about, for example, their modules you’re interested in, or if there are any extracurricular activities you like the look of. This shows that you’re not choosing them out of desperation.

Practise. Get confident with talking about yourself and why you want to study at university. Pretend to do a phone or online interview with a family member, teacher or friend. Then when you’re on the phone on results day, it won’t feel entirely new.

What to have ready

Always have a pen and paper with you to make notes. You’ll want to write down any information you’re given on the phone, such as names or numbers to call back. Keep your computer close by if possible so you can find information online quickly.

If you're expecting an online interview make sure you're checking your technology first. Many unis use either Microsoft Teams or Zoom – both of which are free to accept an invitation from, even if you don't have an account of your own. 

You can also have notes about the university and course in front of you to use as prompts if you’re asked any questions. This may also help if you’re nervous.

Make sure you know what you want to study – if not a specific course then at least the subject area. Be prepared to consider different courses. You can ask, for example, “am I eligible for any of your engineering courses?” and see what the university offers.

Checklist

  • Paper and working pens
  • Fully-charged phone
  • Quiet space to talk in
  • UCAS ID and Clearing number
  • Your grades – both A Levels and GCSEs (or equivalent)
  • Code of the course you’re interested in
  • Any notes with what you want to say
  • Your personal statement to refresh your mind

After the call

If you’re given an offer, the university will send an email with details showing you how to add them to your UCAS Track. The email should include information about the course and when the offer expires. You’re not obliged to, but if you want to accept it you can update your offer online.

If you’ve been given an offer from another university that you’re not accepting, phone them to decline the offer, as they may be holding it for you and can give it to someone else.

You may be able to visit the university on a Clearing open day before (or after) you accept the offer. This gives you a chance to meet staff and students, look around departments and accommodation and have a taste of what you’ll be experiencing when you begin studying there.

If you’ll be heading to a different university, you’ll need to sort out accommodation and update your student finance information. This is relatively easy, but always check if the university is able to offer accommodation to Clearing and insurance choice students. 

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