Personal Statement Guide Ucas Clearing

What is Clearing?

UCAS Clearing is a system that operates between July and September. You can participate in Clearing if you have already applied through UCAS and one of the following situations applies to you:

  • Your offers have not been confirmed because you have not met the conditions (for example, you have not achieved the required grades).
  • You have declined a changed course, a changed date of entry and/or changed point of entry offer.
  • You applied for one course which has been declined/unsuccessful and you have paid the full £23 fee.
  • UCAS receive your application after 30th June 2018. If they receive your application after this date, they will not send it to any universities and colleges.

If you only made a single choice on your original application, you can pay a further £12 and apply to other universities and colleges through Clearing.

You are allowed to complete an application until 20th September 2018. If you apply after 30th June you will automatically be entered into Clearing so you must not fill in any choices on your application.

A full list of course vacancies is published between mid-August and late-September on both the UCAS website and in the Telegraph newspaper.

I’m worried I’ll have to go into Clearing – what can I do?

If you’re concerned that you under-performed in your exams and may have to enter Clearing, there are a few things you can do to give yourself a head start before Clearing begins:

  • Find out what courses were still on offer in UCAS Extra at the end of June.
  • Check out the entry requirements for these courses (although you should not assume they will be lowered for Clearing, however in some cases they might be) and be realistic in terms of the grades you expect to gain.
  • Take a look at the university websites for these courses to make sure you are happy with the course content and you will be taught everything you want to learn.
  • Make a list of these courses so you can look out for them when the Clearing list is published on results day.
  • This way, when you call up an institution about a particular course you will have the advantage of knowing something about it and will sound like a much more attractive candidate than someone who had never even heard of the course until 15 minutes before ringing them.

Also, the more informed you are, the less likely you will be to make a bad choice on the spur of the moment.

How does Clearing work?

Your eligibility for Clearing will show up on your Track page, where you will find your Clearing Number (universities will need this so that they can access your application) and the 'Add a Clearing Choice' button.

In Clearing, applicants contact institutions directly to discuss the courses available and whether their application can be considered.

You can contact as many universities as you like, and may receive offers from several. Don't feel that you have to accept the first offer that you receive: remember that you will be spending at least three years studying the course, so make sure that the university or college and course are right for you before you accept a place.

Each university will give you with a course code and institution code. When you have decided which offer you want to take up, you must enter the details on Track.

You can only enter one choice, and you must have discussed your application with the university first. If you enter a choice without doing this you are likely to cause yourself significant delays and may even lose out on a course you were really keen on.

The last date you can enter a Clearing choice in 2018 is 23rd October - this is also the last date a university or college can accept an applicant in Clearing.

When does Clearing start?

Clearing fully kicks off on A Level results day, which is Thursday 16th August 2018. However, Scottish students receive their results earlier, so they can start on 9th August 2018 (for Scottish universities only).

If you know before this that you will be in Clearing, you can start looking for information and trying to decide where you want to go.

Universities may publish vacancy information on their website as soon as it’s available.

This may potentially be from the start of results week, so keep your eyes peeled. Some may say you can contact them before results day to discuss things, but unless they specifically say you can do not call them until Thursday 16th August.

Clearing in 2018 will remain open until 23rd October.

How do I enter Clearing?

If you missed your firm and insurance offers and they both rejected you

If you missed both your firm and insurance offers, then you don't need to do anything. Your Clearing number will show on Track.

Start calling up universities - with your Clearing number admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might ask you to apply.

If they do this then they are offering you a place - if you wish to take up that place then add it as a Clearing Choice. The university will give you a date by which you must enter their course details on Track.

If you want to be formally considered, you need to click on your 'Add Clearing choice' button and enter the course details. Remember that you can only enter details for one choice.

If you didn't have an insurance offer, then the above also applies to you. However, if you didn't have an insurance place because you only originally applied to one university, you will need to pay an extra £12 since you will have paid the reduced fee of £12 with your original application.

If you change your mind about your firm or insurance offer

If you no longer wish to go to your firm and/or insurance but you met the offer (or they're accepting you with lower grades) then you'll have to ring the universities concerned and beg them to release you.

They'll probably ask for reasons why, and they might not process your request straight away. It could take up to 2 weeks for it to go through officially, which is a long time in terms of Clearing. Therefore it’s important to do this as soon as possible so you don't miss out on the best places.

Ideally, if you knew that this applied to you before results day then you will already have done it.

Once your release has been processed, your Clearing number will show on Track.

Start calling around universities - with your Clearing number admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might ask you to apply.

If they do then they are offering you a place, and if you wish to take it up you should add it as a Clearing Choice on your UCAS Track page.

If you are not holding any offers

If you are not holding any offers, but did apply through UCAS before 30th June, you will have automatically been entered into Clearing, and your Clearing number will be on UCAS Track from mid July.

Start phoning around universities - with your Clearing number admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might ask you to apply.

If they do then they are offering you a place, and if you wish to take it up you should add it as a Clearing Choice on your UCAS Track page.

You may be in this position for a number of reasons, e.g. if you rejected all your offers; if you were unsuccessful in your applications; or if you changed your mind about the courses you wanted to apply for.

If you have not applied through UCAS yet, or applied after 30th June

If you apply through UCAS after 30th June (12th June for Art & Design courses) then you'll only be going through Clearing.

You need to complete a UCAS application as normal on the UCAS website, including all of the usual things such as a personal statement and a reference.

The only difference is that you will not be able to choose 5 universities/courses to apply for. This will cost the usual £23 fee.

Your Clearing number will show up on Track in mid July or as soon as your application has been processed by UCAS if submitted later than this.

Start ringing around universities - with your Clearing number admissions tutors will be able to see your full application and might ask you to apply.

If they do then they are offering you a place, and if you wish to take it up you should add it as a Clearing Choice on your UCAS Track page.

Do I have to wait until my Clearing Number appears on UCAS Track to apply?

Yes - but that doesn't mean you can't approach universities informally.

Most of the Clearing process happens over the phone - it's only the last step that requires a Clearing number and the 'Add a Clearing Choice' button on UCAS Track.

If you had to be released by either your firm or insurance, you will need to wait for confirmation that this has been done, which may take up to 2 weeks.

Will universities accept lower grades through Clearing?

Some will, but some won't - it depends on a lot of things.

The only way you'll know for sure is by asking them or looking on their website.

They may be willing to accept you with lower grades if you're enthusiastic about the course, or if you have relevant work experience or extracurricular activities, so make sure you sell yourself as much as possible when talking to the admissions tutor.

This is why it may help to have a copy of your personal statement to hand.

How many universities can I apply to?

You can approach as many universities as you like over the phone or by email, although remember that you can only add one Clearing Choice on UCAS Track.

Don't add a Clearing choice on UCAS Track before a university asks you to apply to them - if you do they will likely just reject you (and until they reject you, you can't apply anywhere else!).

Research each Clearing choice as thoroughly as possible before adding them on your UCAS Track page – remember that you are committing yourself for the next 3 or 4 years of your life!

Don't just choose the first university that shows any interest in you, because there will be plenty of Clearing places available and any of them could offer you a place where you’ll be really happy.

Can I use Clearing if I want a deferred offer?

Yes, you can, although universities usually expect to deal with applications for entry for the current year (i.e. 2018).

If you want a deferred offer, make sure you tell the university as soon as you contact them that you want to defer your place, although don't be disappointed if they say no.

However, if you're taking a gap year anyway it might be better to reapply through UCAS in September.

This way, you'll have the choice of all universities and courses rather than just the limited selection available through Clearing. You'll also have the advantage of knowing your grades when reapplying, so you can make more informed choices.

How long is Clearing open?

Clearing officially closes on 23rd October 2018. However, most people won't take that long to find a suitable place.

It depends how quickly you can make your mind up where you want to go. If you're absolutely sure you’ve found the right university and course for you, it can be done within a few days.

However, if you are undecided, it’s best you take a bit longer. Many people wish to visit several universities, and they may have special open days set up to help with your choice.

Of course, if you entered Clearing by getting released from your firm or insurance choice then you might not actually be eligible for up to 2 weeks after Clearing has opened. In this case, the Clearing process will take longer for you.

What if I’m off on holiday on results day or just after?

In a nutshell: do not do this. Clearing doesn't finish until 23rd October, so it’s best that you make yourself available until then.

It’s only a few weeks, and you will have the rest of the summer to make other plans and take a break.

Consider the fact that if you are on holiday, it will be hard to discuss things with the universities you're interested in applying to, plus your phone bill will be pretty expensive! Also, how will you get your results anyway?

I’m applying through Clearing – what do I do now?

Check out your copy of the Telegraph, which you should have bought on your way to pick up your results.

It’s important to buy it, as it’s the only newspaper with a full list of all the Clearing places available.

Once you’ve found a place(s) that you think are suitable, the first thing you should do is phone the university(s) and discuss it with them – remember, you shouldn’t apply for a place unless a university actually asks you to.

The first step in the Clearing process is contacting the university(s) by phone or email – not applying.

It’s important not to rush into a decision - take time to talk things through with your family, friends, and teachers.

What do I say to the university when I phone them?

Before calling up the university, make sure you have some decent notes written down on why you want to study this particular course and why you want to attend this university.

Have a copy of your personal statement with you, and make any notes on your achievements, etc. that will help sell yourself. Include anything you’ve done more recently that isn’t in your personal statement.

Highlight any particularly good results you got, e.g. you may have passed an exam with almost full marks.

Tell them if there are specific areas of the course that you are interested in and why.

It will take several or more things to get yourself accepted on to a course, so be well prepared to sell yourself to the university. If you sound enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the course and university, they will be more likely to ask you to apply.

Should I contact the university as soon as possible?

Do not rush to dial the university – take some time to prepare yourself. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!

You will want to make a good first impression on the university, so once you’ve made some notes on exactly what you want to say and you feel ready, phone them up.

What’s the best way to contact them?

You should always try to phone the university – this means YOU and not your parents.

Make sure you have your notes, a pen, spare paper and your UCAS number with you when you call. You will also need your UCAS Clearing number at some point, but don’t panic if you haven’t received this yet.

The university will be busy fielding calls, so expect to wait before you can speak to someone.

Phone is the most direct way of contacting the university, and if you try another way such as email, you may have to wait a while for them to get back to you.

If you don’t get through to an admissions tutor straight away, don’t worry – sometimes you will have to speak to an advisor first to see if your grades and experience match what they are looking for.

If this is the case, you will be told that an admissions tutor will call you back later, or you may be asked to call them.

When you speak to an admissions tutor, you will normally have an informal discussion with them, but remember that you need to sell yourself and portray yourself in the best possible light to stand a chance of being asked to apply.

Should I visit the universities I’m considering attending?

It’s a good idea to go to an Open Day if you are invited – that way you can meet the tutors who will be teaching on the course, as well as fellow applicants and students already studying at the university.

If you decide you aren’t very keen on it, then it’s best to know before committing yourself to a 3 year course there.

You shouldn’t let distance, cost of travelling there or anything else prevent you from attending an Open Day – this is your future, so you should prioritise securing the best place possible for your degree.

What about getting accommodation?

You will find that some universities guarantee accommodation to those entering through Clearing, which is good if the uni you have been asked to ally to offers this.

This you will be able to find out on their website, or certainly at their Open Day at least (there will be plenty of people to ask).

If the university you are applying to can not guarantee you accommodation, they will help you find somewhere to stay. They will give you lists of approved landlords and/or details of suitable private accommodation.

Further information and advice

People you know

The most important place to look for advice is from the people around you. Discuss things with your parents, your teachers, and even your friends (if they are not too busy sorting out their own university place).


You can talk to UCAS by phoning 0871 468 0468. This is just for queries about your application, or for general Clearing enquiries - they won't offer you any advice on which university or course you should apply to, etc.

If you're really stuck, you could try the Stamford Test which is available on the UCAS website.

This can show you the areas of study you may be interested in, although if you have already applied then you've probably either completed this test or have found the information elsewhere.

Learn Direct

Learn Direct can offer careers advice, and advise you on a wide range of courses in the UK.

They can help you decide if university is the right step for you, and tell you about other courses or possibilities. You can visit their website, phone them for free on 0800 101 901, or fill in their contact form.

BBC One Life

The BBC has a lot of information on its website - they also run an advice line, but currently the details for that are not available.

Radio stations such as Radio 1 often broadcast adverts for their services.

© magann – Fotolia

Filling in Your Application

There is no substitute for reading the UCAS guidance and then going slowly and carefully through each section, checking back against the guidance as you go.

  • The UCAS application may only be a few electronic screens but for some it can be a daunting prospect. For most applicants, what you (and your referee) say will be all the university uses to make a decision, so it is important to get it right.


This looks simple, and it is, but don't just fill in your current address and then forget about it. If your address changes, make sure you tell UCAS immediately – including your email address and mobile/telephone number.

  • UCAS will automatically notify your university choices of the change. If you don't keep UCAS informed of your change of address you will find letters and emails (which might be offers or a confirmation of a place) go to the wrong address.
  • If you are at boarding school tell UCAS when you go home for the summer.  
  • It is essential to keep UCAS informed of any changes to your email address. The majority of communication from universities will be by email (open day details, accommodation reminders, news, and even an offer of a place or alternative offer in Clearing).
  • Make sure your email inbox can receive bulk emails and is not full, especially during results time in August. You may not use email much but Universities do!

Examination results

It is important to ensure you get the details of the exams which you are due to be taking exactly right.

  • If you are taking English Language and Literature, put the full title and not just English, even if everyone in your school or college calls it English.
  • This is important because any mistakes could mean that UCAS cannot match your application with your examination results straightaway in the summer. This could result in a unnecessary delay in universities making their decisions.
  • Listing the full module details of a BTEC award is also important to avoid confusion over precisely what subjects you have studied.
  • If you are taking the examinations of another country do not try to give a UK equivalent. Always state exactly what you are doing and let the university decide the equivalence so as to avoid any confusion.
  • If the column headings on the form are inappropriate, then ignore them.

Be honest. Never be tempted to massage your results to make them look a little better.

  • UCAS has some extremely sophisticated fraud-busting techniques and admissions tutors are remarkably good at spotting rogue applications.
  • If you are found to be giving false or incomplete information, you will be promptly ejected from UCAS and lose any chance of a place at university that year.
  • Even if you manage to slip through all the detection devices, you are likely to be asked by the university to present your certificates. Any sign of tampering will be investigated with the examining board.
  • When the examination board advises your would-be university that the ABB on your form was really DDD, you will politely be shown the door.

Personal statement

This is your chance to say anything you like, in your own words, to persuade admissions tutors that yours is the brightest and best application ever to have crossed their desk. You can write what you like. The key areas to include:

  • Why you want to study your chosen subject.
  • What particular qualities and experience you can bring to the course.
  • Details of any work experience or voluntary activity, especially if it is relevant to your course.
  • Any other evidence of extra-curriculur achievements.
  • Details of any sponsorship or placements you have secured or applied for.
  • Your career aspirations.
  • Any wider aspects of life that make you an interesting and well-rounded student.
  • If your first language is not English, describe any opportunities you have had to use English (such as an English-speaking school or work with a company that uses English).

If you plan to take a gap year, then you would be advised to make some mention of your plans and intentions in the personal statement and how the experience may assist you in your personal development or your appreciation of your subject. The university will not hold you to this, but it will indicate to the admissions tutor that you have given some thought to the value of the experience.

Remember that for most admissions tutors a large volume of applications will be on their screen or cross their desk.

  • Many applicants will get advice about how to write the statement and see model examples.
  • Somehow you have to make your personal statement stand out from the crowd. Be honest and be yourself.
  • Try to avoid being too wacky – not all admissions tutors will share your sense of humour.

If there is anything about your application that is even slightly unusual, then explain why.

  • If you want to defer your entry to the following year, say why and what you intend to do with your year out.
  • If you are a mature student, explain why you want to enter, or return to higher education.
  • In general, the more vocational the course, the more you need to emphasise your commitment to the profession and relevant experience you have gained.
  • Conversely, the more academic the course, the more you need to enthuse about the subject and explain why you want to study it for the next few years.

As with examinations, be honest.

  • If you say you are interested in philosophy and then get called for interview, you can almost guarantee that some learned professor will ask you a relevant question. If you can't talk sensibly about philosophy, you will look immature and will be unlikely to receive an offer.
  • Be specific in what you write. Don't just say you did some voluntary work; describe what you learned through the experience.
  • Avoid saying you are interested in reading –  be specific and describe what you like to read and why.

There is no ideal way to structure your statement.  It is a good idea to use paragraphs or sub-headings to make the presentation clear and easy for an admissions tutor to read.

  • Try to keep within the word count.  Like everyone else you have only 450 words or so (45 lines, 4,000 characters max) in which to make your statement, so keep it clear and concise. 
  • If you have to say more than any additional material needs to be sent directly to the universities to which you have applied.  Wait until you have received your application number from UCAS so that you can include this with your papers. 
  • Do not send additional papers to UCAS. 
  • UCAS Apply will let you paste in your personal statement from another source. It is, therefore, a good idea to prepare it in advance and check it thoroughly before entering it into your UCAS application.

Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to plagiarise your personal statement.

  • UCAS now use detection software on all applications.
  • If there is evidence that your application is not your own work, any offers you receive can be withdrawn and universities will be informed of the level of information copied or plagiarised.

The personal statement is important and it will be read.

  • Academic achievement and the possibly the reference from your tutor/adviser at school/college is regarded by many people to be more important.
  • Give yourself plenty of time in which to prepare it.
  • With brainstorming and re-reading/editing, at this level of education you ought to be able to produce a piece of work which accurately reflects you. 
  • All of us have positive attributes and motivations – its just a case of teasing them out and expressing them on the statement.

Read Personal Statements – an Insider's View, with more do's and dont's.

Choice of courses

By the time you fill in your application, you should have your choice of courses ready.

  • You are allowed 5 choices. You don't have to use them all. If you only make one choice there is a lower application fee.
  • If you want to apply for medicine, dentistry or veterinary science/medicine, you are only allowed to use four choices for these courses.
  • Each university will only see details of its own application and so they will not know where else you have applied or whether all the courses in your application are the same. The form is therefore classed as 'blind'.

Remember that you only get to write one personal statement, so if you opt for radically different courses (e.g. Physics at Oxford, Film Studies at Essex, History at Sheffield and Politics at Aston) it will be difficult to construct a personal statement that demonstrates your enthusiasm for all of them equally.

  • If your choices are so varied perhaps you need to ask yourself some honest questions about where your passions truly lie – otherwise you may find yourself in an unhappy place in the future.
  • Better to wait 12 months and get a clearer understanding of who you are and what you wish to achieve.

Students who are applying to university as part of UCAS Extra may wish to email a revised personal statement to their chosen university.

  • This is not currently possible via UCAS Apply itself but any email or correspondence should include your UCAS applicant number for easy cross referencing.
  • Clearing/Adjustment applicants are also welcome (and advised) to submit a revised personal statement.

© Artur Marciniec, Fotolia

Finishing your application

In all sections of your application, make sure the grammar and punctuation are correct – check your application carefully.

  • It is a good idea to show it to someone else as a final check. Don't rely on a computer – it won't spot the subtle differences between organic chemistry and orgasmic chemistry, for example.
  • When you have finally finished, print out a copy and arrange for your referee (usually someone from your school or college) to add their reference and follow the instructions about ways in which you can pay the fee. In 2015 it is £23 for 2–5 choices or £12 for 1 choice.
  • International applicants will need to have access to a credit card to make the payment.

Your application can arrive at UCAS any time between 1 September and 15 January (or 15 October if Oxford or Cambridge or any medical, dental or veterinary course is among your choices – see the Application Timetable for this and other exceptions).

  • In some circumstances there can be a small advantage in applying early – before Christmas is advised.
  • If you apply after the appropriate deadline your application will still be processed by UCAS but universities do not have to consider it. They can, if they wish, reject you on the grounds that they have received enough applications already.
  • However, if you are applying for one of the less competitive courses or are applying from outside the European Union you will probably find your application is treated just like those that arrived on time, and many universities may make allowances for mature applicants engaged on one-year Access Diplomas.

Should I apply early?

Universities are required by UCAS rules to treat all applications received by the appropriate deadline on an equal basis.

  • If you are applying for a low-demand subject you will probably get equal treatment, even if your application arrives well after the deadline. Nonetheless this is a risky strategy which is ill-advised.
  • Occasionally, a very popular university may experience a sudden increase in applications in very high-demand subjects such as medicine, English or law.
  • This only becomes apparent after the university has started making offers. It will then be faced with a choice of either carrying on making offers in the same way and ending up with an intake way above target or tightening up its criteria and admitting the correct number.
  • This situation is very rare, but the conclusion is that applying early never does any harm while applying later to high-demand subjects very occasionally might – the early bird catches the worm.

Next page: Personal Statements – an Insider's View

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