Busting the myths of Clearing

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham

“The stigma of Clearing has gone and the reality is that Higher Education has moved on.”  


While the anxious parents of 18 year olds waiting for A level results may recall the stigma of Clearing ‘back in the day’, Clearing and Adjustment (the option to trade up) has moved on considerably in recent years – particularly since the cap on student numbers was lifted in 2012 and universities no longer face financial penalties for recruiting above these targets. 

The days when Clearing was viewed as the place for disappointed A level students to scramble around for a small number of places on strange sounding courses at low ranking universities have become myth and legend.  Savvy students are now using Clearing and Adjustment to re-evaluate their choices, pick a more prestigious university, or change direction entirely to a course that is a better fit.  Some students are even choosing to wait until Clearing opens to apply for University – adopting the post-qualification application approach seen in other parts of the world.  In fact far from being the place of last resort, Clearing and particularly Adjustment are increasingly creating a ‘buyers market’ for students who have done particularly well.

At the University of Birmingham, we have noticed a considerable change in the landscape for Clearing and Adjustment in the last few years. Reforms to A levels, changing applicant behaviours and trends, and fiercer competition have led to Clearing and Adjustment being a more widely accepted route into university for high-calibre students. The removal of AS level grades has made it more difficult for schools to accurately predict grades for students, making offer making more complex for universities. Therefore recruiting students who already have their results reduces uncertainty, and for the student it gives them the confidence to speak to universities that they may not have otherwise considered or engaged with.  

We know how important it is that students make the right university choice for them, and Clearing and Adjustment play a key part in making a good decision and we continue to encourage all student to make an informed choice and not panic. There are plenty of opportunities and options available for students who haven’t received any offers, who haven’t met the terms of their offer; or who achieved better results than expected and are looking to ‘upgrade’ to a different institution. For many students the clearing and adjustment process provides a real opportunity to go and study at the best place for them on a course that is right for them.

It may have been over a year since students visited the open days of the universities that they have chosen, and during the course of year 13, some people may change their minds about what they enjoy and what they would want to study at university. For these students, Clearing and Adjustment could get them on the right course and at the right institution, while for the university, we want students to enjoy their time here, to be successful and to study the right subject for them.

According to UCAS, last year nearly 60,000 students found their places through the Clearing and Adjustment process and on highly competitive courses at elite Russell Group universities.  At the University of Birmingham we anticipate being in clearing for a small number of places including Geography, Biosciences, Pharmacy, Aerospace Engineering and Modern Languages, as well encouraging students wishing to trade up to Birmingham using the Adjustment process.  And we know in previous years courses on popular subjects like Medicine, Physics and Psychology have appeared in clearing listings at other well regarded universities.

It is also worth noting that Clearing and Adjustment closes quickly – and in previous years at Birmingham when we have been in clearing, our phone lines have closed around lunchtime.  So it is important to be prepared, act fast, know what you want to get out of the day, and make sure you cover all details when speaking to universities. 

Don’t be panicked into a decision – you can’t accept a Clearing offer until 3pm so there is time to carefully look at all the clearing and adjustment offers received before accepting the preferred one.

Results Day can be stressful for everyone – particularly for students, but also for their parents, friends and teachers.  It is worth making a plan and doing some research in advance.  A number of universities will already be listing the programmes that they expect to be available on Results Day, and so students should be drawing up a shortlist of potential universities and the telephone numbers to call (as well as the time that the phone lines open), and familiarising themselves with the details around the programmes they are interested in.  It’s likely that your school or College will also be on hand to offer advice. 

Whilst Clearing and Results Day can feel like a whirlwind, it is important to make an informed decision and to think about things like the type of university you prefer, differences between similar sounding courses and what their accommodation offer might be for Clearing and Adjustment students.  At Birmingham we provide an accommodation service for everyone coming through this process – to help take the stress out of finding somewhere to live and enable our students to feel part of the Birmingham community as quickly as possible.

The stigma of Clearing has gone and the reality is that Higher Education has moved on. We know that students who join us through Clearing and Adjustment at Birmingham are just as successful as those who come through the traditional route. So, whether you are a student or a family member awaiting exam results, I would encourage you to do some research and draw up a list of places and courses that appeal so you are ready to act swiftly if things don’t work out quite as you’d expected on Thursday morning.  A little bit of preparation now might just be the best thing you could do.