‘It’s a buyer’s market’: universities brace for the biggest clearing day yet

Every year, more students find their places at uni through clearing – but 2020 is expected to be the biggest number yet. Lots of students say the extra time to think during lockdown has made them change their minds, while others held off deciding until getting a clearer idea of what the autumn term might look like. Universities are expected to have a lot of places to offer, too: with international students planning to stay away, they’re keen to fill spaces.

“It’s a buyer’s market, due to a demographic dip in the number of 18-year-olds and the pandemic,” says the Higher Education Policy Institute’s Rachel Hewitt. “This year’s students will have more options available to them than ever before.”

Things are still likely to be competitive, though. The University and College Admissions Service (Ucas) has reported record applications, with numbers rising substantially during lockdown. Given how bleak the jobs market looks, lots of school leavers are expected to apply directly via clearing.

“Higher education has traditionally been a port in a storm during a recession, because people think if there aren’t jobs around, let’s go to uni,” explains Gary Davies, pro vice-chancellor for student recruitment at London Metropolitan University.

But an increase in applications isn’t necessarily something to worry about. Last year, 73,000 students found places through clearing, so universities are used to dealing with huge volumes of inquiries. That’s why most have been running open days (virtual this year), hosting Q&As on social media, and advertising vacancies ahead of A-level results day on 13 August, when clearing opens to offer-holders. Hewitt recommends students prioritise checking what the balance of online and face-to-face teaching is likely to be in autumn.

Lots of offer-holding students plan to use clearing as an opportunity to upgrade their course or university. Ijenu Chikwe, a year 13 student from Woolwich, wants to give medicine a shot, even though she holds a place for biochemistry.

Traditionally, places for the most competitive courses and universities have been rare in clearing, but this is changing – possibly even more so this year, due to falls in international student numbers. That’s why Chikwe has been preparing hard, starting with a schedule for how the day will play out, including Ucas timings and when to arrive at school.

Preparing is what helped 20-year-old Megan Murphy secure a place at the University of Bedfordshire after realising she couldn’t afford the living costs at her first choice in central London. “Clearing is a stressful time for any student, but my experience was made a lot easier through regular talks with Uni of Bedfordshire staff on the phone and by email,” she says.

While clearing might be busy, Davies’s advice to students is not to rush. “Think about the experience you get from the university when you get the offer and use that as a proxy for the type of experience you’ll get when you enrol as a student,” he says. “But most importantly focus on the course details and on the differences between the courses of the institutions for which you’re holding offers, because there is no national curriculum in higher education.”


13 August 2020
A-level results day. Clearing will already be open for students without offers, but the 13th is when students who want to switch uni can enter. If you’ve missed your grades you’re in clearing, if you did better than expected you can enter adjustment, or if you’ve changed your mind you can release yourself from your offer. To find out which applies to you, check Ucas Track.

1 September 2020
Adjustment closes.

7 September 2020
The deadline for providing all the extra information your uni needs to help you meet offer conditions – for instance extracurricular achievements – is 7 September.

8 September 2020
If you’ve decided to defer the year, you can start applying through Ucas for courses starting in 2021.

21 September 2020
This is the final date to submit your applications for courses starting in 2020. After this date, you’ll have to approach universities and colleges directly as clearing is closed.

15 October 2020
The deadline for 2021 applications to Oxford and Cambridge, and most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science and dentistry.

15 January 2021
The final deadline for all applications to undergraduate courses starting in 2021.

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