In mid August each year in the UK, the A- and AS-level results are published, causing a rush for the few remaining University places the following September. This period is known officially as Clearing, Confirmation and Adjustment, and involves the organisation UCAS who administrate the admissions process for thousands of students.
Clearing is an opportunity for students to gain a place at university, even if their exam results are lower than expected. Students taking A- and AS-levels in UK schools and colleges receive their exam results on the same day, which in 2010 is Thursday 19 August.
Throughout the year, students can apply to universities and colleges to take Higher Education courses. These institutions can make conditional or unconditional offers. A conditional offer means that the applicant must achieve a certain range of grades in their exams to be able to take up their place on the course. An unconditional offer means that the institution accepts the student without any further requirements.
As soon as a student receives their exam results, they must either confirm their place or enter Clearing to try to secure another offer.
If a student receives the grades they were expecting, and had been made a conditional offer by a university, they can confirm their place. This is the “Confirmation” part of Clearing, Confirmation and Adjustment.
Students who have not achieved the grades required for their first choice of institution can enter Clearing. Institutions publicise their courses that still have vacancies on the UCAS web site and through the Independent newspaper. Students can approach any other institution and ask to be considered for a place on any of the courses with vacancies.
The Adjustment part of Clearing, Confirmation and Adjustment refers to students who have significantly improved on their predicted grades. These students can ask to be released from any offers they may hold, so that they can approach other institutions for a place on a different course.
The Adjustment period runs until the end of August, but for each student the period is much shorter. They have a maximum of 5 calendar days (including Saturdays and Sundays) to register and secure an alternative choice. Students cannot enter Adjustment if they originally had an unconditional offer, if they have already changed their course once before, or if they held an unconfirmed offer at their first choice of institution but did not exceed their predicted grades.
Any student who only registered with UCAS for a single course choice, but who then wishes to enter Adjustment, must pay an additional administration fee. Applicants who had already paid the multiple registration fee do not have to pay any further fee for Adjustment.
Students must be released from their original offer by the university before they enter Adjustment. All students applying for a place on a higher education course during Clearing will need to use the TRACK system on the UCAS web site.
Self-referring students (those who have been told by an institution that they can apply for a place on a course even though the course is advertised as having no more vacancies) will need to type the course code into the selection field instead of selecting it from the drop-down menu.
The number of places available during Clearing each year is falling. Students are advised to secure an offer of a Higher Education place as early as possible. Clearing can be a worrying and nerve-racking time for students and parents alike.
However, UCAS and most of the universities and colleges have advice teams manning the phones from very early on the first day of Clearing. Students can phone and speak to an impartial advisor at UCAS, or phone the institution of their choice to discuss their options.