Clearing. It is the Christmas of the higher education sector. It comes around every year, we all know it, wait for it and meticulously prepare for it. But despite our best-laid plans, there is always a last-minute rush to make sure that everything is ready for the big day.
Obviously (and most importantly), it is huge day for students and a big milestone in their early academic careers. They will always be our primary focus.
However, for us and support staff across the sector, it can also be an extremely demanding time. It is imperative that our clearing provision is on point to ensure that we don’t make the day any more stressful than it needs to be for the students. Although this can add pressures of its own, it is all worth it in the end.
From an admissions perspective, during clearing especially, my role varies. One of the key areas on the day is the clearing contact centre. It is the initial point of contact for the majority of clearing queries and the hub for the day’s activity. It needs to run like clockwork.
Last year, some 7,885 calls were taken by the University of Hertfordshire’s hotline on the opening day of A-level results alone, rising to 13,000 calls in the first week. This year, the number of enquiries will probably be even higher. So one of my jobs is to make sure that those people answering the phones are fully trained and prepped to deal with the many different course-related queries that will come in over the phones.
Plus, at Hertfordshire, our phone lines will be open from midnight, so I will need to make sure that there is enough caffeine to keep the team going through the night!
Clearing has also undoubtedly changed in recent years, and we have had to adapt. For example, while the humble phone will still play a key part in the process, one newer aspect of my role is to take part in “Clearing Live” at the university. We will broadcast live and stream throughout the day, giving clearing advice and answering questions via YouTube, Facebook Live and our website.
Just a couple of years ago, this is something that we wouldn’t even have had to contemplate. But as avenues of communication change and develop, so must the way we interact with our students.
While these innovative approaches take a lot of time to coordinate, from departmental collaboration to checking that the technology is working, they ensure that anyone contacting our university can get real-time advice and not just spend time waiting on the phone.
This makes my job in admissions a lot easier, as it means my staff and other members of the university from areas such as accommodation, finance and careers can liaise directly with students who have general questions, freeing up the phones for those with specific course-related queries.
Finally, while it is one of the busiest days of the academic year, it is also important to note that clearing isn’t always the frenetic, hectic HE merry-go-round that it is sometimes perceived to be. And I think this is a stigma that needs to be changed because it can sometimes filter through to our potential students, adding to their stress levels.
Yes, clearing takes a lot of planning and prep, but at the end of the day, it is all to ensure that prospective students get the best possible experience, and is that not the most important thing?
Jenny Ventris is head of admissions at the University of Hertfordshire.
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