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Ucas clearing 2021: will it be different because of Covid-19?

University admissions have faced disruptions due to the pandemic, but what does this mean for Ucas clearing?

    Joy Hunter's avatar

    Joy Hunter

    Student content curator
    July 14 2021
    Students on phones and tablets


    After a turbulent year for higher education due to Covid-19, there are some concerns around how the pandemic may affect Ucas clearing 2021 in the UK. 

    Ucas clearing is the process where students who didn’t meet the grades of their firm and insurance university choices are able to shop around for other courses at universities in the UK.

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    This year Ucas expects more than 30,000 courses to become available for students to explore through clearing.

    The impact of the pandemic may mean that clearing is a little busier this year, but there’s no reason why it won’t be a smooth process for you as long as you’re prepared. 

    Here’s what may be different in Ucas clearing this year compared with other years, as well as tips from admissions staff on how to navigate the process.

    Important clearing dates are earlier than usual this year

    A-level results day in the UK is 10 August 2021, which is a little earlier than usual to allow time for any students who may wish to appeal the grades they receive to do so.

    Though clearing officially opened for anyone from 5 July, clearing is busiest on A -level results day and for a few days after, when UK students get their grades and confirm their offers.

    If you’re an international student, it’s important to be aware of 10 August as there will be a surge in both university places becoming available through clearing and students trying to fill them.

    You should prepare a clearing plan and research numbers to contact at universities you’re interested in ahead of this date, as things will move quickly from there.

    Is clearing going to be more competitive this year?

    After the complications of last year’s admissions cycle, there has been record demand for university places this year, with an 8.5 per cent increase in Ucas applications in 2021.

    This has left some students worried that clearing will be more competitive as a result, but it’s difficult to know exactly whether this will really be the case.

    Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at the University of Bath, points out that among concerns about potential grade inflation from teacher assessment in the UK, many universities have taken a more conservative approach to offering places to students. This could mean that more students end up in clearing than in previous years.

    However, he also stresses that the truth of how competitive clearing will be will depend on the course and university you may be hoping to get into. It’s therefore best not to worry too much about increased numbers of overall students going through clearing, and instead focus on the universities and courses you may want to target through clearing and contacting them.

    Matthew Andrews, university secretary and registrar at the University of Gloucestershireadds that admissions staff will appreciate how the pandemic has caused disruption. “Universities will be sympathetic to this and look favourably on applications where they can because of the difficult circumstances applicants from school this year will have faced,” he said. 

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    Should students approach clearing any differently this year?

    While the pandemic may affect some people’s outcomes from going through Ucas clearing this year, the process itself will remain the same.

    “My clearing advice for students is the same as any other year,” says Sarah Simms, head of UK admissions at the University for the Creative Arts. Her advice includes encouraging students to begin their research before results day, so they know their options and have a plan of action should they need to go through clearing. She adds that students should not be worried about contacting university admissions teams when going through clearing: “We’re here to help!”

    Along with the usual questions you will have for universities during clearing, Matthew Andrews says it’s also worth asking about the university’s approach to blended and hybrid learning.

    Mike Nicholson adds that if you do receive a clearing offer, you may want to contact the university to arrange a visit or set up a few calls with staff to learn more about the institution before confirming your place. Since so many applicants missed out on open days and virtual meetings with staff due to lockdowns and travel restrictions, this may be the only chance to get a taste of what the university is like before confirming an offer.

    It would also be wise to take time to research accommodation options at the university that makes your clearing offer, Mike adds. “This may be particularly important if universities have to go back into local lockdowns, so questions on the size of household groups, quality of the internet in the accommodation, and what access you have to bathroom and washing facilities are crucial.”

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