The dread of every UCAS applicant on results day not meeting the grades required for your first choice of university, and the knowledge that now begins another period of waiting. If you are planning to go to a UK university, that will undoubtedly mean Clearing.
It is quite normal to go through the stages of anger and denial before acceptance can come. Once re-marking options and urgent appeals to universities have been explored, and the dream of attending a particular university is lost, most students will look through the vacancies in Clearing with mounting sense of panic, frustration, desolation, failure and/or anger.
Hard as it is students, and parents, should take a fresh, objective look at where their future is going however.
Exam disappointment might reflect a numbers of things - yes a failure to work, but perhaps also the result of unrealistic predictions or unsuitable subjects. Perhaps exam day was just not your day. Is the chosen course really the best option for the student - would an alternative option suit? These new choices can be no worse than your original choice, just different ones.
Vacancies in Clearing might well reflect the fickle popularity or a particular course, rather than any significant differing in standards. The annual variations in patterns of demand for certain courses at certain institutions can be very significant. Alternatively, unrealistic grade predictions really were the reason, that can mean that the student would in fact flourish at an institution with less demanding entry requirements.
The good news is that the numbers of students accepted in Clearing has increased over the last couple of years, despite the fall in overall applicants and this is unlikely to be affected by the slight rise in applicant numbers this season.
2013 saw the lifting of restrictions on the number of students who gained grades of ABB or higher that universities may recruit in contrast to the previous years cap of AAB. This meant that a significant number of places were available for students who achieved this level last summer and although this will vary from subject to subject and place to place the Daily Telegraph has reported that 12 of the 24 Russell Group institutions have confirmed that they will be accepting candidates through Clearing in 2014.
Another option to Clearing is, of course, a reapplication either with or without retakes. To reapply does offer the chance for greater reflection on course choice and the process of applying with actual rather than predicted grades can often be more straightforward. Many excellent tutorial colleges can offer support for re-takes, although reasons for failure to meet original offers and the abolition of January re-sits should be carefully considered. This is particularly the case if the reason for reapplication is solely to gain that elusive place at the dream university and there is a reluctance to explore any alternatives.
Most universities will look favourably on reapplications, although offers may be more demanding if a student is repeating A-Levels, for example Trinity College Cambridge does not recommend a reapplication unless a candidate has achieved at least two A* grades, despite their standard A*AA offer.
If there were extenuating circumstances for the original exam performance these could and should be mentioned, ideally in the reference. If a student exceeds their original offer Adjustment- a chance to trade-up is another option, although numbers doing this are small, if growing. Very competitive places are unlikely to enter Adjustment and a reapplication may well be more suitable. In all these cases careful consideration of the varying options should be undertaken and it is often best for the student to talk to a detached adviser to attempt to try to calmly explore these.
UCAS’s Mary Curnock Smiths words that Clearing “should not be seen as a last chance saloon but a creditable application route” may well to be accurate for many.
By Fiona Mckenzie and Paul Kelly, Gabbitas Education, Dubai.