‘Follow your head and your heart’: clearing advice from the experts

‘Follow your head and your heart’

I think students are in a very good position this year. First of all, there are fewer 18-year-olds than last year. International student numbers are also likely to be down, which leads to increased capacity. And now even prestigious universities have got used to the idea that they have to use clearing and the stigma has gone from it.

There are challenges and the teaching is going to be different, but there are very good arguments for people thinking they have a better chance this year than in any year in living memory. The government has recently introduced limits on the number of places unis can offer, but that is pretty lax and it gives a lot of freedom to the more prestigious institutions where selection is normally tighter.

If you are having second thoughts, get on the phone to universities. My advice is follow your head, but follow your heart as well. It’s not just about going with what your parents or teachers say as they can be woefully out of date. Do your homework. It’s not in the interest of students or universities when people end up doing a course they don’t really want to be doing.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute

‘Don’t feel pressured into making your decision’

A key question to ask is what plans the university has in place to adapt their services if there is any change in the coronavirus pandemic, and what support will be available in various scenarios, such as a local lockdown. Don’t rely on generic statements put out by universities as the provision might vary from course to course.

Accommodation has always been an important consideration when deciding which university to attend – but it’s even more important when you’re learning online. Ask how much accommodation costs and what financial support is available such as bursaries or rent reductions. Many of the usual amenities, such as gyms, may also function differently this year.

If you’re a disabled student or have other additional needs make sure to ask how you will be supported by the university. Don’t feel pressured into making any decisions before you have all this information.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, NUS vice president higher education

‘Register for clearing plus’

Clearing can be quite a rushed activity when you get results, so the best thing to do is to identify your options in advance. Gather information on the institutions you will consider and the numbers to call. Create a list and be ready to be on the phone quickly. This year you’ve got an advantage because open days and virtual tours have been put online, so a lot of the info you need is already available.

You can also register for clearing plus and flag the courses and institutions you would be prepared to consider and then the unis will call you directly on the day. In many ways there’s no downside to doing this. The worst that can happen is someone is going to phone you and you can say you’re not interested.

Phil Bloor, head of admissions at Sheffield Hallam University

‘This year, all degrees will look different’

It’s important for students to do the research before they get their results. Be flexible and think beyond the subject you originally wanted to study. Consider related courses and joint honours degrees. For many unis you can also register your interest before clearing opens. This means that after 8am on results day you will get an email from the university saying what vacancies they have and what number to phone.

It’s always a good idea to contact the university before results day. You can find out if they are running any events or live chats and have general conversations about course content, bursaries or accommodation queries. Most universities will also have a list of early clearing places which will give you a good idea of what will be available. Every university will have teams available to help with queries and it’s better to speak to them now because on the day it will be frantic. This year, all degrees will look slightly different to how you imagined, so ask about start dates and online lectures and get as much detail in advance so that on results day your thought process will be organised.

Lucy Collins, director of home recruitment, Bristol University

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