Explained: University Clearing & A Levels Results Day

 Edited transcript of the video above.

My name is James Rust, I am founder of The Pay Index and we have developed a brand-new product for parents called Propella to help their child to fly.

I’m joined by Amanda Reader who I’ve known for six years now. Thank you for joining me today Amanda, it would be great if you can just give us a quick intro so we can find out a little bit more about you.

Sure, I’m Amanda Reader I’m Head of Cranleigh Futures at Cranleigh School in Surrey Cranleigh is a school of about 600 students at the moment.

I work with a variety of people to support the younger pupils in helping them understand themselves and make decisions about which GCSEs to choose and which A Levels to choose. And maybe think about particular kinds of career ideas for them, but I also work with sixth formers and again helping them steer their future really and helping them understand what their future might look like once they leave Cranleigh. Whether they want to go to university and what course they might want to study, or whether they might want to go on a gap year. We work with a whole variety of children across the across the spectrum really.

We have about 120 pupils per year so every year we will be supporting about 120 students in their university applications. We’ve got the A Level results coming up very shortly, so now we’ve got to try and hope that most of the students get the grades that they want but inevitably unfortunately some students will fall short.

Then we have all sorts of angst. So, the whole point of this particular video that we’re producing is to help parents to help their children work out what to do next.

Absolutely yeah, I mean it can be a really difficult time there’s been so much uncertainty in the last sort of two years and there’s even more uncertainty for our 18-year-olds really about what their future looks like. There’ll be some nervous parents and some nervous pupils out there at the moment but not long to wait.

If you think about the number of students that you have typically, what percentage of students don’t get their first choice or have to go through clearing? What’s the normal sort of number?

Yeah, it’s really interesting probably about 30 of our students will drop a grade from their kind of expect expected grades that they needed to get off to university. Of that a large proportion, probably about 15, would still actually get into their first-choice university so even though they would drop a grade their first choice will often still take them. That’s certainly what’s happened in 2019.

2020 was a very different year because of COVID and who knows what it’s going to look like bearing in mind last year was the first year that was affected by COVID. We know what a challenge that was for so many students and the way that the impetus was put on the schools to help deal with this. It was a very unusual year.

What do you think schools have learnt while dealing with this particular year?

Well, I guess one thing that that we’ve learned as a team of people is that that you’ve got to sort of plan as much as you can for every eventuality because you just don’t know what that situation is going to be.

Certainly, last year the majority of the universities took the students and that’s partly because the grades changed pretty rapidly within a week and the university still had to honour the kinds of offers that they’d made. So, we had very few people actually going into clearing.

Some people did much better than they were anticipating, and they sort of pulled themselves out of the university process. They wanted to then apply to a better university or to a better course because actually they’ve got better grades than they’d expected. That doesn’t often happen, but it definitely happened last year.

How does the school’s career team help when the clearing process begins? What are the actual mechanics of the process?

Well, I think the key take home for me is that actually the pupil has got to go through clearing themselves and they’ve got to contact the universities themselves. So as a careers team we’re always there to help them but ultimately, we can’t communicate with UCAS and we can’t communicate with the individual universities for them.

Those students have actually got to got to go through that process themselves and parents can’t do it either that’s just one of the one of the key messages really, I think from this video.

It’s got to be the student and interesting clearing is open now and it always opens a little bit before the actual results come out, so they do that so that pupils who are worried that they’re not going to get those grades can actually be thinking about it now and do a bit of research now.

They should be looking at those individual university pages and you can sign up onto each university page to actually get the information that you need about the courses that are currently available.

If universities have got spaces on management courses they you can actually get that information right now, so yeah if you’re worried about it it’s definitely worth thinking ahead and planning and thinking “actually, you know I don’t think I’m going to get the grades but I’m going to look at doing a similar course so I’ll look at Reading University, I’ll look at Oxford Brooks and see if already I can find out if there are spaces on similar courses”.

That is definitely worth doing your research sort of early on and when the results actually come out then clearing opens on the UCAS site and there’s some really good videos that explain how that works. You’ve got to log on to it and it will list all of those universities and the courses that are currently available.

Then as an individual, the students have got to contact each individual university themselves and say this is what I’m interested in, these are my current grades, I was really hoping for three As but actually I’ve got an A and two Bs. My first choice won’t take me, and my insurance choices won’t take me, would you take me for this particular course?

You just have to have those conversations with each individual university to find out whether they will actually take you.

When you speak to the universities, are you speaking to university careers teams there or the clearing teams at the university?

The students have got to call them up, physically try to get through, which as we know is a case of redial, redial, redial. They eventually get through and say right these are my grades, or this is my student number, my UCAS number, can I go to this course?

Absolutely, so tip number one then is if you’re worried do some research beforehand by going to the university pages. At the moment, UCAS will not list the courses that are currently available they won’t do that until the results come out but usually you can register on their page and if you do that that you will get emails that will tell you the actual courses where they have some spaces already available. You do have to do that to each individual university to start with but as of results day that list will also be available on the UCAS site.

Yeah, you need to talk to the admissions department of each individual kind of department and that information will all be there on UCAS for you. On results day when you get your actual results, and every school will process that in a different way maybe that and you get that via an email it may be that you have to log on to your sort of school portal to get those results.

If you’ve dropped a grade, then it’s definitely worth taking a deep breath not panicking but then checking UCAS and checking your emails because it could well be that already you’ve got an email that says welcome to York University, welcome to this university and actually they’re still taking you even though you’ve dropped a grade so just don’t panic straight away.

Get your results but check your UCAS page and check your and your emails because it could well be that you’ve immediately got in and you don’t need to go through the clearing at all.

That’s really interesting because that happened to my son. He was going for Exeter he was going for the course, but they offered him the same course but in a different campus which unfortunately was not the one that he needed for the other activities that he wanted to focus on, which is why he didn’t have to change.

So yes, we weren’t expecting that result to come through, so that that does make sense and as you say clearing day results day it’s stressful but it’s good that you’ve got that in your back pocket so to speak.

It’s worth also not rushing decisions, going to university is an expensive three years, four years maybe of your life, you know you will pay your university tuition fees of over nine thousand pounds a year so don’t rush that decision.

There can be that kind of moment of panic on results day but actually take your time, do your research get the information from the universities that says yes, we will give you your place. Don’t feel that you have to actually confirm that straight away, you could have four different universities that are offering you a place but don’t be pushed into actually making that decision immediately. Take your time think about it do some research, so it doesn’t have to be signed on the dotted line straight away.

I mean obviously there’s the university itself, it would be worthwhile also checking the modules and you know it may be that it’s a course that you’re familiar with, but the modules do vary substantially from university to university. Whether it’s a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science and you know how scientifically they can vary quite dramatically. Some university courses are very exam based and some are more coursework based so that’s worth considering.

You know as you’ve already said that actually when it comes to you being offered a place at university it could be that it’s slightly different from the original course that you were hoping to get onto. You might need to be a little bit flexible in your decision making and it could be that and let’s say you were doing a geography course but actually you didn’t get into your first choice, maybe other courses might have more of a human element to it. You would need to be a little bit flexible in actually what you’re going to be accepted onto really.

Thank you Amanda that’s really useful information. What happens if you think actually that they don’t want to do that?

Or they go through clearing and there’s nothing that really that excites them? What then?

Are they stuck on their original dream or what are the other alternatives do you think?

Well, if you want to withdraw from the university process you can do you can kind of self-withdraw and you don’t have to go to university if you’ve changed your mind. People do kind of withdraw from the process; you might want to think about getting a job.

Obviously COVID changed a lot of these sort of employment areas at the moment, but it’s definitely worth taking your time. We’re all living longer, we’re working longer where you don’t have to go to university straight away, so it’s a really good idea to actually take more time have a year out maybe do some traveling. There’s lots of different possibilities with volunteering traveling working maybe getting a bit of work experience or sort of doing some volunteering. Just developing yourself and taking time to think about what you really want out of life.

Do you have an idea as to what percentage of students will retake their exams?

Obviously, it’s a minority but do you know roughly what percentage do go on to study for the next year to try and improve their A Level grades?

Very few of our students would do that. I know probably something about like 3%, as I said some people will end up doing better than they’d anticipated, which is fantastic. So suddenly if you’ve got three A*s you might actually think I will try and apply for Oxford or Cambridge’s. It’s worth a go and so we’ve definitely had students that have done that. It’s really paid off them, they’ve worked really hard, and they’ve got some great exam results, but they might not have initially been accepted into a particular university. They’ve reapplied and then most of the time they’ve then got in second time round, so yeah that’s been worth their extra effort.

I mean there are other options, the students that may have been inspired by what they have seen and heard through COVID after they’ve made their university choices might now use this as an opportunity to rethink.

Or, as you say, the cost is so expensive that maybe they might consider doing a degree apprenticeship instead, so they don’t have that student debt when they come to finish.

There are different options out there and if you don’t get in through clearing or your first choice or through your first offer then it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it’s stressful but there are other alternatives.

Definitely and there are people that that will change their mind over the subject that they’ve decided to study at university and certainly when you put your UCAS application form in November time normally, by the time you actually get your results in August that’s a long time. A lot of people will change their mind in that time, so yeah, they would need to then withdraw from the process and then look at going on to a completely different university course if that’s what they’ve decided to do.

Let’s hope that actually maybe through COVID some people will then decide to change from a chemistry degree to actually try training to be a doctor. That would be amazing and then the NHS is going to be happy as well, so everybody wins.

It’s really important that pupils contact the universities themselves whilst as parents you know we love to help them and it’s really difficult to watch them worry about things. We’re often desperate to support them but actually pupils have got to get in touch with the universities themselves. It’s worth doing that with the admissions teams, seeing what courses they’ve got available obviously having your results with you and seeing if you’d actually be accepted onto those courses.

You really need to have your personal statement with you as you might need to refer to it when you’re chatting to those admissions teams, and you might need to be flexible with those courses.

You might need to change very slightly. Maybe do a course that is more combined, maybe one that’s got work experience involved within it and so yeah you just need to be really organised, but you also need to be a bit flexible.

Why would you need to refer to a personal statement during clearing?

Well, when you’re talking to the actual admissions department, they may well say to you “why do you want to do this course?” and the students would have written those personal statements back in October and they could well have forgotten actually why they wanted to do the course. There’s an element of you got to kind of sell yourself in order to get on to the actual course.

If you have your personal statement with you then that will remind you about why you wanted to actually apply for that course in the first place. If you’ve got it with you, you’re much less likely to actually sort of worry about it and panic when they ask you questions that you might not have thought about.

It’s really important to be positive and you know we fully appreciate that students are going to be worried about things. They’re going to be panicking about things but actually you need to remain calm, and you need to be positive about it as well. The universities aren’t really going to want to have people that are in floods of tears on the telephone.

Try to remain calm be positive but be really organised and obviously you know the results always come out in the summer holidays, so make sure you keep your phone on. Yhey will get back in touch with you either via email or they might give you a ring to give you an offer. Keep your phone on and be organised.

Keep your phone on and keep it charged, don’t put it on the side don’t put it on silent.

I think that’s really useful feedback, I think that’s a lovely way to finish. So, thank you very much Amanda, it’s been great to speak to you and thank you very much for your time.

I hope you enjoyed our video today I really enjoyed talking with Amanda about results day and how the university clearing process works. If you would like more information about universities, apprenticeships, and student finance, please sign up to Propella. It’s completely free and is here to help you help your child.

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