Making plans for university

Profile portrait of a skater style teenager girl with an unfocused graffiti wall in the background
Profile portrait of a skater style teenager girl with an unfocused graffiti wall in the background

It’s only three weeks until A-level results day (August 15) and as thousands of teenagers up and down the country worry about their results, an academic gives advice to help.

Many people think that university clearing is only open on A-level results day and for a few weeks afterwards – it’s not the case.

Dr Lisette Johnston, ex BBC World News boss and Head of School at ScreenSpace, part of MetFilm School explains what Clearing is all about and urges young people to plan now.

Clearing opened on the July 5 and universities are already advertising courses available through the system.

It is the process that students use to access university after they’ve received their A-level level results (or A-level equivalents) and is not just for when you don’t get the expected grades.

It’s widely recognised that schools and colleges don’t always get predicted exam grades right, and universities offer places based on students’ predicted grades.

There’s a growing trend showing that potential university students are not even applying to universities until they know their results. Last year, a record 17.5k people got their university place applying to university after they’d got their results, and, nearly 67k, people, including those who had applied earlier in the year, were accepted through Clearing.

If your results are better than expected and you’ve accepted a place at a university based on lower grades, you can ‘trade up’ to a different course or university that required higher grades, through Adjustment.

Here are Dr Lisette’s top tips on what to do now.

1. Get Cracking: the sooner you apply the better. Some courses cap the amount of students they will take, so apply early and that way you are more likely to get a conditional offer, which is better than missing the boat if you leave it to phone on results day.

2. Don’t wait until results day to look around universities. There are lots of open days between now and August so as well as looking at course content online it’s even better to go to a university and see what it is like.

3. If you haven’t got the grades you expected, you might not get into your first choice, but that doesn’t mean going through Clearing to get in just anywhere. If staying at home is important, find out what the options are available locally. If you are passionate about a specific topic find out where the next best place on the list is and what grades they expect.

4. Be realistic. If you haven’t got the results you expected, what is more important - the course, the location or a degree in general? The last thing you want is to get on a course and find out it’s not what you want. And don’t just go somewhere cos all your mates are going.

5. Be open minded. Within a university there are often opportunities to transfer courses to take electives more closely linked to your original choices, for example you may have chosen Media or Film Studies but you could consider Journalism or Film Making.

6. Remember, you’re not stuck – if you start at a university and you realise it’s the wrong course or the wrong place you can change.