Clearing has traditionally been seen as a fallback for prospective students who missed the grades that they needed to get into their chosen university.
But a new survey of student behaviour and motivations shows other ways in which increasing numbers of applicants are using the service. It comes after 5 per cent more students (64,300) went to university through clearing last year than in 2014.
Digital marketing firm Net Natives ran a survey at 14 universities (both post-92 and Russell Group institutions) around the 2015 clearing period, to which 1,555 students who gained a place through clearing responded.
Of those surveyed, 47 per cent said missing out on their first choice was their main motivation for going through clearing.
However, a majority (53 per cent) cited other reasons for opting to find a place through clearing, including changing their opinion on what course to study, what part of the country to study in and what university to go to.
Murray Simpson, head of higher education at Net Natives, said: “Clearing students are now active consumers when considering where to study. Clearing is no longer seen as the last resort...but more of a way to control what and where they study.”
According to the survey, before results day most students had done little research into clearing places, although 71 per cent had visited the website of the university they eventually ended up at.
By 9am on results day, more than half the students surveyed had begun looking for places through clearing, mostly by searching online on their computer, phone or tablet. By noon, one in five students had secured a university place.
Sixty-eight per cent of students contacted two or more universities before making their final decision and securing a place, usually over the phone.
In the end, 1,114 of the students surveyed made their final choice based on information on the university’s website rather than because of what they saw in the media, on forums or because of pressure from friends and family.
Comparison with students’ original Ucas choices showed that a change in university was much more common than a change in course, suggesting that students are more concerned with what they study than where they study.