Confused About Clearing? An Expert Answers Your Questions

Mark 'Woody' Woodward from Bablake High School in Coventry is our favourite careers adviser. He's here to answer your questions about results day, clearing and what comes next...

"I'm getting scared that I won't get the grades I need. What if I have to go through clearing? Will I be able to find a uni place that I want?" - Laura

The key thing is not to panic as you have done your best in the exams and there is nothing you can do now to change your results. Plus, Clearing certainly does work! It's dramatic waiting for your place to be confirmed, but as long as you stay calm, focussed and upbeat then you'll definitely get there in the end.

"What's the best way to approach clearing?" - Sara

The main thing is to be calm. You'll need your UCAS codes as universities ask for that over the phone. It's also best to grab a paper like the Independent or the Mirror for official listings and have a look early doors before results are given out. That way you can have a good overview of what's going on before you even get your grades. UCAS's website and individual university sites have the listings too - although the uni ones won't be as live as they may only update every hour or so.

Remember, however panicky people are around Clearing you are looking for a course and a uni that you will spend at least three years on. Don't jump into something before thinking carefully first. Of course, some haste is needed. For example, you should visit places straight away if you want to see what they're like rather than leaving it a day or so. But there's no need for you to jump on the first offer you get. Shop around, see what's about and then make an informed decision.

The horrible side to Clearing is that you'll naturally be feeling down if you have to use Clearing but as with everything it's best to try and stay ahead of the rest. Have a brew, go online, ring a few places and see what's on offer. Always remember that a great number of universities want you as much as you want them.

"Does the choice I make now about uni and gap years really dictate what happens in the future?" - Naomi

Every choice you make narrows your options somewhat but remember that over 50% of graduate jobs are for students of any discipline. I am convinced the individual is the key, not the subject, in so many cases... Obviously I would make a disastrous medic as I chose non-science subjects, but so many jobs want a person with charisma. Every experience at uni / gap / work level is a factor in helping you decide your future - but that doesn't mean that you aren't left with loads of choices.

"If I don't get the grades I need, I will probably do retakes. Will unis look down on this and do you have any tips for keeping motivated once all my friends go off to uni?" - Russ

Some unis don't like retakes and in fact ask for higher grades from them, but you need to ask the ones you are thinking of applying to what they think. All unis are different.

As for motivation, I think retakes are the hardest way to spend the next year but aiming for that place you've always wanted may be motivation enough. Spending a couple of weekends with some of your friends who go to uni this year should give all the motivation you need! With friends on hand 24/7, the student lifestyle, thousands of people of your own age, an awesome social life, brilliant facilities, the bars, clubs and gigs... do you need more motivation to get yourself to uni?

Check whether resitting is the best route and whether a crammer course would be better; they are expensive but a much shorter time is spent studying.

"If I do have to retake some modules, how do I go about re-applying to universities while on my gap year?" - Gayatri

I guess you will retake modules in November, January or in the summer. Best to ensure you are around in the UK for the peak times and consider possible interviews too at the unis you apply to from November to March. Your former school or college may allow you to apply via them or you should approach UCAS for their advice. Most likely your school will do UCAS the same way as last year so arrange to see your form tutor and head of 6th/UCAS to find out what's best. Be as disciplined as possible with UCAS and retakes then you can really enjoy the rest of the year...

"I've deferred my uni entry and am going travelling for nine months - how can I deal with all the uni paperwork like loan and accomodation forms on the road? Can I get my parents to do it?" - Yasmin

Tell the uni in question your plans and ask them if your parents can complete things on your behalf. Once you are 18 you are an adult, and without permission from you, they may not be able to sign for your accommodation and suchlike. You could get your parents to forward your mail to a nominated address if you know you are going to be in a certain place for a few weeks, but email may be the best route if the uni is happy for you to complete attachments etc...

Loan applications will be done by your parents between February and April so you may well be back. Leave them a folder with all your UCAS communication in it and don't forget to email yourself key elements like codes and UCAS numbers in advance. These things have a habit of disappearing if you don't keep track of them and they are so important to your application.

"How can I make my UCAS form stand out from others - it seems uni acceptance is based on more than grades and I've got my heart set on one uni in particular..." - Sam

Visit them and let them see your best possible side. Thank them in writing for their time on such a visit.

Other than that make your Personal Statement fizz with enthusiasm for the subject you want to study. Ensure you mention related work experience and give strong reasons for wanting to study it. Spend about two thirds of the space on the subject and why you want to study it and then a third on your interests and talents. Also ensure there are no glaring errors on your application. Research the course inside out and ensure you can be interviewed successfully.

It's always best to apply as early as possible once you have done your research if you are set on the place and course. And remember: a uni won't know it is your top choice from your application unless you tell them.

"When I mentioned to my careers adviser that I wanted to take a gap year, she wasn't very encouraging. Why do careers advisers not see it as a good option?" - Richard

Maybe they don't read the same papers as I do! Maybe too they have not seen the rise of this very website... Traditionally, gaps were portrayed as only for rich students who went abroad and did charity work. More recently the media has changed its view of the gap year becoming more aware of the 'average Joe' student going out around the World, learning about themselves and lending a hand along the way.

Careers officers are often cautious... an undirected gap year is not a good thing so maybe that adviser was wanting to hear more research from you. Having said that, many careers advisers just don't get the time or support to research gap year options. I am lucky that my school is supportive of gap years. Gaps have changed remarkably over the last five years and are now a fantastic way to get ahead of other students. In fact some students will never catch up if they take a non-gap route. For instance, those students doing gap year schemes with companies like Deloitte or PwC will be offered vacation work and contracts and graduates will never see those.

It's a shame the adviser you spoke to was negative. There's so much you can do on a gap that it is hard to keep track unless you go to a site like this one and investigate fully, which this careers advisor may not have done.

"It annoys me so much when everyone on the news goes on about how A level standards are going down - I worked hard for mine and so did all my friends..." - Laura

Totally, totally agree... you sweat your guts to get results then have the newspapers telling you A levels are easy. Don't let the media persuade you the results are meaningless: you will have all achieved a great deal and don't let anybody convince you otherwise.

"I'm really worried about starting uni, leaving home and making new friends..." - Andrew

Be yourself. Everyone has every reason to like you. Be confident, tell yourself you are great and an achiever for getting to uni and you will look confident. Be who you want to be... uni is such a tolerant place; the most tolerant you will ever come across.

Keep a door open for people to drop in. Smile a lot! Take some sugar and always have a pint of milk at hand. One of my students said there's a bitch in every hall / corridor, just make sure you are not him / her! Remember to eat, sleep and drink. Don't say yes if you really want to say no - there's always another party later in the week... Don't fall into the trap of going mad in the first few days and having to live down that reputation for three more years!

Be wary in new surroundings and get insurance for your belongings. What about spending a couple of nights in the area with friends or family a week or so before really going?

Take comfortable shoes, 20ps for the clothes driers, a doorstop, a bottle of wine and corkscrew and some fancy dress. Take your favourite duvet and pictures of friends but do remember that some unis make you bring it all back at Christmas!

Also get a few goes in at cooking and shopping for yourself on a budget before you go. Avoid credit cards - they are evil. Money can be a problem - some spend over £400 in Freshers' Week and your loans etc may not arrive on time. You have been warned...

It is scary for everyone to leave home and start somewhere else but once the first few hours are over, it gets good! Freshers' Week is mad - but it depends on you. If you love parties and are confident, it will be brilliant. Don't assume everyone else is really confident and not scared - they might hide it by over-drinking or attaching to big groups. Loads of passport photos and a love of queuing are also useful during the first week.

You will cope with the course soon enough. Don't worry about the intensity as everyone is in the same boat... Don't buy loads of text books - ask second-years which are vital and how to get second-hand copies.

Stay ahead of your peers by looking for a summer job early to enhance job prospects at the end of your course. Use the uni careers service regularly too.