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Primary Education News
News Clearing 2013: what to say on the phone
Clearing gives you a chance to influence university admissions tutors directly. So make sure you are confident, positive and prepared
Most university applicants don't get to speak directly to tutors until they arrive on campus. But all that changes in Clearing, when you are expected to pick up the telephone and ask for a place.
Unfortunately, the opportunity arrives when you are perhaps feeling at your lowest ebb – so how do you pluck up the courage and what should you say?
Remember, universities want to fill their places with good students and they are on your side, says Alix Delany, the assistant head of admissions at the University of East Anglia.
"We have people crying because they got three As, but didn't get into med school. I say: 'Hang on a minute, you have three A grades. That is fantastic. There's lots of things you can do with that, so let's talk about your options.'"
There are some things it is better not to say, however, such as "I've got 200 points what can I study?" It's okay to admit that you are not quite sure of the course you want, but you should at least have a subject area in mind.
"We will look at your grades and talk about the subjects you enjoyed, and the career you have in mind," says Helen Elsey, team leader of the askBU inquiry service at Bournemouth University.
A special team, brought in to field calls, usually answer the phones and then put eligible candidates through to an academic admissions tutor. The tutors have Ucas application forms in front of them, so make sure you have reread your personal statement, she says.
Students often cannot remember their GCSE grades, so have them to hand, advises Fiona Harrison, senior admissions offer at the University of Bedfordshire. No question should be out of bounds when the decision is so important, but they should be serious. It doesn't create a good impression to ask an academic tutor where the party is.
Usually, students' queries are sensible, but there have been some bizarre ones, says Harrison, such as the applicant who asked if a driving licence could count towards Ucas points.
It's important to remember that Clearing isn't the dregs of the barrel," says Claire Chalmers, student recruitment officer at Goldsmiths, University of London. But, she adds, you need to be prepared to act fast to get the best choice of the courses on offer.
It's a tricky balancing act, because although you should only pick up the phone once you have a good idea of which course you're interested in, you also need to be flexible. You're entering into a conversation with an admissions tutor who may be able to offer you course options that you'd never thought about, and which might just suit you very well.
"Some students do have the approach of 'I just want to do something somewhere'," says Simon Ells, head of admissions at Birmingham City University. It's a heart-sinking moment for an admissions tutor – and not great for the student either. When you're deciding where to spend the next three years of your life – not to mention taking on considerable debt – you need a more positive motivation than "I just want to go to uni".
In the middle of all the upset, don't simply hang on to the security of following your mates to the institution they have chosen. Take a deep breath, says Chalmers, then get on to university websites and select a few courses that offer something similar to the one you originally applied for. However, there is no point picking a course that looks attractive, but which is at a university in a town, city or rural area you'd hate.
You can keep track of which courses are still available through the Ucas Clearing site. Keep looking at universities' social-media feeds, too, on Facebook and Twitter, because they will be pushing courses that still have vacancies.
Before you pick up the phone, have all the information an admissions tutor will need to make a decision, says Richard Broom, admissions manager at City University, London. This includes "all your academic bona fides, your Ucas ID and additional personal information that shows motivation. Clearing moves very quickly and academics like to refer to all of the above to make confident decisions".
Broom says it never fails to surprise him, when looking through emails and messages to Clearing staff, how many applicants fail to supply enough information about their chosen course or don't give enough information about their qualifications. "If we have to get back to the applicant about things like that, it will reduce the chances of getting in," he says.
How you put yourself across in those Clearing phone calls really can make a difference, says Ells. "If somebody falls short of grades for a particular course, but they are showing an interest in the subject and have knowledge of it, then, yes, we'd look at that positively," he says.
And remember, he adds, the relationship between universities and applicants has changed over the years. "We're not sitting here thinking we're doing someone a favour," he says. Clearing, as much as the original application process, is about creating a good match between student and university, so that you are happy and fulfilled on the course, and the university knows you'll be an asset to the cohort of undergraduates.
A final piece of advice – try not to be too disheartened, "even though it's horrible going through Clearing", says Ally Cousins, who lost out on her preferred options in 2010, but got a place to study psychology at Buckinghamshire New University through Clearing. "I was heartbroken, but it's worked out fine – I've met great people, had great tutors and really enjoyed myself here."