How to win at clearing

My previous blog was all about how I got into uni through clearing. This one is what I wished I’d known going into the process. And there are some cardinal rules. The good news is that despite the decision being difficult, stressful and of course vital, actually the rules are very simple.

Who dares wins

You will be surprised this year how many elite universities are open to clearing. The who system has changed over the past few years and is in a state of flux. You don’t need to know the reasons why (it’s to do with lifting the cap and fees) but you as a potential student have got more choice than perhaps you realise. And loads more than previous generations. My advice would be to use it.

The reputation of the institution matters – but isn’t the only thing

Yes, there are league tables and rankings. And these do matter to potential employers when you graduate. Outside of the big gradute employers, many don’t really care where you went to university. They are bothered about what you can do. And more than anything else, the important thing is that you are a confident, knowledgeable and educated person when you graduate. I personally know several of my friends who went to top universities who loathed their time there and wish they could go back in time and change their decision. You would have thought that (for example) UCL or Cambridge would be great places to study. And they are. But for many people, going there was the wrong decision. So don’t just go for the rankings.

So how do you decide where to go?

This is personal so I can’t exactly say. But location is important. But really not the only thing at all. And how you decide which location is the best is really hard to assess. For example, Exeter as a town is kind of OK, but students at the university there are phenomenally happy. And some of the most satisfied students in the entire country study at Loughborough. And quite rightly so – but you would NEVER choose it as a place to go on holiday for example. The point is, you are not going there on holiday. You are going to university to study. And lord knows, with the fees the way they are, you need very very good reasons for your choice! I would say that I have heard students make decisions on the most flimsy of evidence – someone saying hello as they went there on an open day for example. You can get a sense of the culture of the place by visiting and perhaps on clearing day, you don’t have that luxury. So here are some things to think about:

The subject

Actually this is probably where this blog should begin and end. If you go to university to study a subject you are not interested in – and therefore possibly good at – you might as well not bother. HOWEVER, studying at university is not at all like studying for A levels or BTEC. This means it is sometimes difficult to tell what you are going to like or not. Having said that, I do remember being turned down for my preferred course (psychology) but being offered a place to study physics at a Russell Group university. I knew full well I would fail within weeks if I’d accepted that place. However, do remember that university study might be different to your experience of study before hand. I can’t really help you through this conundrum as it does require real, proper soul searching. On the one hand, you may prove everyone wrong but on the other, actually you have to remember the cardinal rule: study something you are fascinated by.


Let me start by revealing a truth that you wont find on any university website. Studying for a degree is hard. No, really. It is hard. I have been around the block and whilst my army Basic Training was hard, if anything doing a degree was harder. OK, the lecturers didn’t keep me up all night, dig trenches in the snow or make me do runs with telegraph poles on my shoulder, but they did the intellectual equivalent of far more. I was fortunate to have a degree with a wide ranging first year and then many options for specialisation later. Many degrees these days do not have that flexibility. So you need to be as sure as you can be that the subjects you are going to study are ones you think look really interesting. I have seen too many students who are studying something they really aren’t all that interested in. And these are not the students who are (a) happy or (b) doing well in their exams.

Be persistent.

Academic study requires self directed effort. That is to say, people who try hard to succeed even when it looks hopeless. They put in the hours and eventually it works out. The most common conversation I have with students starts with a realistic appraisal of where they are followed by my helping them to understand what they need to do in order to turn an apparently hopeless situation around. And time and time again, I see students do well who aren’t the most naturally gifted but who apply themselves, respond to feedback and more than anything are prepared to work hard in order to succeed.


Sometimes I have seen students who are having an awful time at university. The ones who leave are the ones who didn’t really have worked out in their own mind why they were there in the first place. Mostly the ones who knew what they wanted to achieve were able to remind themselves of that and work at how to pull themselves out of failing assessments and do well. One of my proudest days as an academic was a student who was borderline failing in her first year but her obvious commitment and some support meant she graduated with a first. And these are not given lightly. She could so easily have bailed out at the end of the first year but she was determined and had such a passion for her subject that it worked out even better than we could have imagined.

2 thoughts on “How to win at clearing”

  1. Great post thanks. However, personally speaking while I knew why I was there (to improve and retain my employability as a mature worker) and committed to getting the reading done, going to every lecture and seminar and handing essays in on time. However when it came to the results sadly it was all based on how you perform at the exam and not on anything else. I kept going but unfortunately the overall results were disappointing to me considering the work I put in. Perhaps I should have not tried so hard and merely focused on 3 or 4 pieces of reading and assignments (not all of them) and practiced perfecting the essay writing on the specific arguments themselves. Because colleagues that took that strategy seemed to have fared better. So it is not always the case that passion or commitment wins out but strategy. Now I am not sure whether to carry on studying or just save my money if all it really amounts to is strategically writing a good essay on the day to please the examiner.

    That said, I hope I have gained a wider aspect of the many arguments and ways of thinking rather than being a subject expert on a few. However employers don’t judge you on that but on your degree results. So while I now have a degree to go on my CV, unfortunately it is not a first which would have enabled me to enter into potential graduate schemes. My self-confidence in carrying on studying and do better on an MA is now kind of wobbly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s