Surviving Clearing Week - A Quick-Start Guide For Academics

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An Admissions officer once told me that successful Clearing campaigns have three essential ingredients: advance planning, organisation, and pizza. In the past, coffee was also crucial as university teams raced against external caps to fill course places. Today the external caps are largely gone, but Clearing can still be a high-pressure experience.

What is Clearing?

Clearing is the process that gives a second chance to students who did not achieve the A Level or other marks needed for a place on their programmes of choice. Once UK students are informed via UCAS that their applications were not successful, they have a short period in which to find a course that will accept them. They receive a Clearing Number from UCAS, and between mid-July and the start of term they can contact universities directly. The full list of open places doesn’t appear until after A Level results arrive in August, but students will start calling much earlier. 

For universities, Clearing means working against the calendar, and your competitors. Courses that recruit poorly could fail to run, but students can juggle multiple offers. Their first experience of your institution will be the Clearing process, and could make or break their decision. 


If you’ve been asked to set up Clearing efforts for your team, meet with senior academics well in advance to find out what they need. Availability of funding, staff or space can still impose limits on recruitment. Get firm numbers, and find out what kind of applicants they find desirable.

Find out about any courses where staff have particular concerns about viability or student quality, and set firm targets. Make sure your Clearing team will have access to up-to-date information about all courses, including joint-honours options and support available for disabled students.

Ensure that the Clearing centre will have sufficient telephone lines to meet demand, and that staff are prepared with process information and scripts that encourage good-quality applicants to add your university as a Clearing choice on UCAS and then accept your offer.


Once the process is underway, daily briefings can ensure that the whole team is on track and meeting recruitment targets. Visuals on the wall or online can also help with motivation.

Staff should try to convince potential recruits during their initial call. If they meet requirements, make sure they receive the correct course code, institution code, and validity period for the offer (usually this is 48 hours or less). Follow-up calls and emails can make the difference, but these are time-consuming so reserve them for the strongest applicants or struggling courses. 

Pizza (and more).

Front-line Clearing staff are often new academics and administrators. Don’t listen to any negative messages you may hear about the role: Around ten percent of applicants come in via Clearing, and you’ll be supporting students to make a key life decision.

Get to know as much as you can about the courses you’re asked to represent. You may want to have a look at what’s on offer at competing universities too, to devise some arguments in favour of your own. Students make their decisions based on many factors, including course quality and format, location, cost, support and employability measures, so be ready to answer the questions they may have.

And do what you can to keep morale from flagging—friendly contests with co-workers, information-sharing, and yes, pizza and other treats go a long way to making a tough job better.

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